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Technical Assistance for Medicare Providers and Applicants

Communications with Persons who are Limited English Proficient

In certain circumstances, the failure to ensure that Limited English Proficient (LEP) persons can effectively participate in, or benefit from, federally-assisted programs and activities may violate the prohibition under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. 2000d, and the Title VI regulations against national origin discrimination. Specifically, the failure of a recipient of Federal financial assistance from HHS to take reasonable steps to provide LEP persons with a meaningful opportunity to participate in HHS-funded programs may constitute a violation of Title VI and HHS's implementing regulations. It is therefore important for recipients of Federal financial assistance, including Part A Medicare providers, to understand and be familiar with the requirements.

Applicable Regulatory Citations:

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964: 45 CFR Part 80

§80.3 Discrimination prohibited.

(a) General. No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be otherwise subjected to discrimination under any program to which this part applies.
(b) Specific discriminatory actions prohibited. (1) A recipient under any program to which this part applies may not, directly or through contractual or other arrangements, on ground of race, color, or national origin:

(i) Deny an individual any service, financial aid, or other benefit provided under the program;
(ii) Provide any service, financial aid, or other benefit to an individual which is different, or is provided in a different manner, from that provided to others under the program;
(iii) Subject an individual to segregation or separate treatment in any matter related to his receipt of any service, financial aid, or other benefit under the program;
(iv) Restrict an individual in any way in the enjoyment of any advantage or privilege enjoyed by others receiving any service, financial aid, or other benefit under the program;
(v) Treat an individual differently from others in determining whether he satisfies any admission, enrollment, quota, eligibility, membership or other requirement or condition which individuals must meet in order to be provided any service, financial aid, or other benefit provided under the program;
(vi) Deny an individual an opportunity to participate in the program through the provision of services or otherwise or afford him an opportunity to do so which is different from that afforded others under the program (including the opportunity to participate in the program as an employee but only to the extent set forth in paragraph (c) of this section).
(vii) Deny a person the opportunity to participate as a member of a planning or advisory body which is an integral part of the program.

(2) A recipient, in determining the types of services, financial aid, or other benefits, or facilities which will be provided under any such program, or the class of individuals to whom, or the situations in which, such services, financial aid, other benefits, or facilities will be provided under any such program, or the class of individuals to be afforded an opportunity to participate in any such program, may not, directly or through contractual or other arrangements, utilize criteria or methods of administration which have the effect of subjecting individuals to discrimination because of their race, color, or national origin, or have the effect of defeating or substantially impairing accomplishment of the objectives of the program as respect individuals of a particular race, color, or national origin.

Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act: 45 C.F.R. Part 92

 § 92.201 Meaningful access for individuals with limited English proficiency.

 (a) General requirement. A covered entity shall take reasonable steps to provide meaningful access to each individual with limited English proficiency eligible to be served or likely to be encountered in its health programs and activities.

 (b) Evaluation of compliance. In evaluating whether a covered entity has met its obligation under paragraph (a) of this section, the Director shall:

(1) Evaluate, and give substantial weight to, the nature and importance of the health program or activity and the particular communication at issue, to the individual with limited English proficiency; and

(2) Take into account other relevant factors, including whether a covered entity has developed and implemented an effective written language access plan, that is appropriate to its particular circumstances, to be prepared to meet its obligations in § 92.201(a).

(c) Language assistance services requirements. Language assistance services required under paragraph (a) of this section must be provided free of charge, be accurate and timely, and protect the privacy and independence of the individual with limited English proficiency.

(d) Specific requirements for interpreter and translation services. Subject to paragraph (a) of this section:

(1) A covered entity shall offer a qualified interpreter to an individual with limited English proficiency when oral interpretation is a reasonable step to provide meaningful access for that individual with limited English proficiency; and

(2) A covered entity shall use a qualified translator when translating written content in paper or electronic form. 

(e) Restricted use of certain persons to interpret or facilitate communication. A covered entity shall not:

(1) Require an individual with limited English proficiency to provide his or her own interpreter;

(2) Rely on an adult accompanying an individual with limited English proficiency to interpret or facilitate communication, except:

(i) In an emergency involving an imminent threat to the safety or welfare of an individual or the public where there is no qualified interpreter for the individual with limited English proficiency immediately available; or

(ii) Where the individual with limited English proficiency specifically requests that the accompanying adult interpret or facilitate communication, the accompanying adult agrees to provide such assistance, and reliance on that adult for such assistance is appropriate under the circumstances;

(3) Rely on a minor child to interpret or facilitate communication, except in an emergency involving an imminent threat to the safety or welfare of an individual or the public where there is no qualified interpreter for the individual with limited English proficiency immediately available; or

(4) Rely on staff other than qualified bilingual/multilingual staff to communicate directly with individuals with limited English proficiency. 

(f)  Video remote interpreting services.  A covered entity that provides a qualified interpreter for an individual with limited English proficiency through video remote interpreting services in the covered entity’s health programs and activities shall provide:

(1) Real-time, full-motion video and audio over a dedicated high-speed, wide-bandwidth video connection or wireless connection that delivers high-quality video images that do not produce lags, choppy, blurry, or grainy images, or irregular pauses in communication;

(2) A sharply delineated image that is large enough to display the interpreter’s face and the participating individual’s face regardless of the individual’s body position;

(3) A clear, audible transmission of voices; and

(4) Adequate training to users of the technology and other involved individuals so that they may quickly and efficiently set up and operate the video remote interpreting. 

(g) Acceptance of language assistance services is not required. Nothing in this section shall be construed to require an individual with limited English proficiency to accept language assistance services.

Resources

For further guidance on the obligation to take reasonable steps to provide meaningful access to LEP persons, see HHS' "Guidance to Federal Financial Assistance Recipients Regarding Title VI Prohibition Against National Origin Discrimination Affecting Limited English Proficient Persons," available at  http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/civilrights/resources/specialtopics/lep/index.html. This guidance is also available at http://www.lep.gov/, along with other helpful information pertaining to language services for LEP persons.

Examples of Vital Written Materials

  • Vital written materials could include, for example:
  • Consent and complaint forms.
  • Intake forms with the potential for important consequences.
  • Written notices of eligibility criteria, rights, denial, loss, or decreases in benefits or services, actions affecting parental custody or child support, and other hearings.
  • Notices advising LEP persons of free language assistance.
  • Written tests that do not assess English language competency, but test competency for a particular license, job, or skill for which knowing English is not required.
  • Applications to participate in a recipient's program or activity or to receive recipient benefits or services.

Non-vital written materials could include:

  • Hospital menus.
  • Third party documents, forms, or pamphlets distributed by a recipient as a public service.
  • For a non-governmental recipient, government documents and forms.
  • Large documents such as enrollment handbooks (although vital information contained in large documents may need to be translated).
  • General information about the program intended for informational purposes only.

See Policy Examples Section for an example of a policy for providing communication with persons with limited English proficiency.
 

Content created by Office for Civil Rights (OCR)
Content last reviewed on July 26, 2013
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