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Contact HHS Office for Civil Rights
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The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Commits to Effective Communication for All Individuals with Disabilities in All of Its Programs

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have entered into an agreement to ensure that individuals with disabilities can access information provided by CMS and its contractors in CMS programs.  The agreement resolves two complaints filed with OCR by a national disability rights advocacy organization, the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF), on behalf of two named complainants participating in the Medicare Program and other Medicare consumers who are blind or have low vision and who need accessible information in Medicare communications.  The complaints were filed under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in federally assisted and federally conducted programs.  

Following an investigation and discussions with CMS about the issues raised in the DREDF complaints and the broader issues of accessibility across CMS programs, OCR and CMS jointly developed an expanded approach to address these issues.  These discussions resulted in a comprehensive "Commitment to Action" that resolves the underlying issues raised in DREDF's complaints about access for individuals who are blind or have low vision in the Medicare program and further encompasses all individuals with disabilities and all CMS programs and CMS contractors. The agreement requires that CMS expeditiously implement a process for responding to all requests for auxiliary aids and services relating to communications between staff and beneficiaries of CMS programs and provide widespread notice of this process.  In consultation with OCR, CMS will also engage in a self-evaluation of its compliance with Section 504 and will establish a longer term comprehensive approach to ensuring effective communication with CMS consumers and beneficiaries with disabilities within prescribed timelines. Completion of the action steps in the timeframes specified in the Commitment to Action will ensure that all CMS programs are in compliance with Section 504 with respect to the issues investigated in these complaints as well as proactively address any issues in other CMS communications with other individuals with disabilities. A copy of the signed Commitment to Action can be found at http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/civilrights/activities/agreements/cms.html.   OCR will continue to closely work with CMS in implementation of the Commitment to Action.

OCR enforces multiple civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, disability, age, sex, and religion by health care and human service providers.  When OCR determines that there has been a violation of the law, OCR initially seeks voluntary compliance and provides technical assistance to health care and human service providers.  OCR also has the authority to seek remedies as necessary in the event of noncompliance.

To learn more about non-discrimination and health information privacy laws and your civil rights and privacy rights in health care and human service settings, as well as find information on filing a complaint, visit us at http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/office.