This March we commemorate the many achievements and contributions that millions of women have provided to society. Women make up 50.5% of the U.S. population, and despite this there are still significant disparities experienced across how we access the healthcare system, the work force, and other places across our world.1 For example:
- For every dollar a non-Latino white man makes, Hispanic women make only 55 cents – the largest wage gap experienced by any major racial or ethnic group in the United States.2
- Black and American Indian/Alaskan Native (AI/AN) women experience substantially higher rates of maternal morbidity and mortality than White women.3
- Transgender women experience higher rates of violent victimization than cisgender women.4
My office, the HHS Office for Civil Rights, works to address such inequities and help work towards justice in our health and human services programs here at the Department. I work with my colleagues across the U.S. government, to help coordinate and work together to help advance federal services free from discrimination. The Office for Civil Rights enforces a range of Federal antidiscrimination laws—including Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act and specific program statutes—that protect all women, whether they have a disability, identify as LGBTQI+, or simply need access to health care. OCR also works with agencies across the Department to advance health equity for women and girls by encouraging enrollment in free and low-cost healthcare and coverage, including but not limited to Medicare; Medicaid; the Children’s’ Health Insurance Program; the Affordable Care Act’s Marketplace; the Health Resources Services Administration’s (HRSA) health centers; and hospitals, nursing homes, and outpatient facilities covered under the Hill-Burton Act.
Today, we remind women about these laws which help them access health and human services free from discrimination. Some key guidance and enforcement work is:
- On June 1, 2022, we entered into a voluntary resolution agreement with the University of Southern California (USC) and Keck Medicine of USC, which requires: the supervision of medical chaperones for sensitive health examinations; notification to students of their civil rights and USC’s grievance procedures; and sexual harassment prevention training for faculty and staff pursuant to Title IX, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex.
- In June 2022, OCR issued guidance on how covered health care providers and health plans can use remote communication technologies to provide audio-only telehealth services in compliance with HIPAA Rules.
- In June 2022 OCR issued guidance on HIPAA and Disclosures of Information Relating to Reproductive Health Care, to ensure that covered entities understand that the HIPAA Privacy Rule permits, when certain conditions are met, but does not require that protected health information be disclosed to law enforcement. OCR also issued guidance for consumers on protecting the privacy and security of health information when using your personal cell phone or tablet.
- In July 2022, OCR issued guidance on federal protections to ensure that people with disabilities and individuals with limited English proficiency have access to telehealth.
- In July 2022, after hearing reports of patients unable to access necessary medications, HHS issued guidance to roughly 60,000 U.S. retail pharmacies, clarifying their obligations under federal civil rights laws to ensure non-discrimination on the basis of sex or disability.
- On August 4, 2022, OCR published the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) for Section 1557 in the Federal Register. The NPRM proposes to reinstate broad protections under Section 1557, including specific provisions related to non-discrimination on the basis of sex (including pregnancy, sexual orientation, and gender identity). OCR anticipates that this rulemaking will result in significant benefits by providing clear guidance to health care providers on how to prevent and address discrimination.
- OCR relaunched the Language Access Steering Committee in October 2022 and is working to ensure that LEP persons have meaningful access to HHS-administered health and human services programs and activities.
- OCR issued a bulletin on December 1, 2022, reminding regulated entities they are not permitted to use online tracking technologies in a manner that would result in impermissible disclosures of ePHI to tracking technology vendors or any other violations of the HIPAA Rules.
I am profoundly thankful for the many advances the women’s movement has made in my life, and I am committed to ensuring that all of our rights are enforced and protected.
Melanie Fontes Rainer
Director, Office for Civil Rights
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
1 U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts: United States
2 Women's earnings by race and ethnicity as a percentage of White, non-Hispanic men's earnings, 1988-2021, U.S. Department of Labor
3 Doula Care and Maternal Health: An Evidence Review, HHS Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, Office of Health Policy; 12-13-22
4 Violent Victimization by Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, 2017–2020, Bureau of Justice Statistics, June 2022