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Health Care Discrimination

Federal law specifically protects individuals from many forms of discrimination in the provision of health care services. For example, those who qualify for federal health insurance programs such as Medicare or Medicaid may not be the subject of discrimination based on gender, race, or national origin. These protections can extend to facilities providing services under government health programs such as extended care facilities and hospitals. They also influence who insurance companies may or may not decide to cover. The Health Care Discrimination segment of FindLaw's Civil Rights section provides a general overview for consumers.

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964: Overview

Discrimination in the procurement of certain health care services based on an individual's race, color, or national origin is strictly prohibited by Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. As with other federal anti-discrimination laws, this applies to health care programs that receive federal funding, such as Medicare and Medicaid. This law is enforced by the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

Other types of services that may be affected by the law include nursing homes, adoption agencies, day care centers, family health centers, and substance abuse treatment centers.

The law makes it illegal to take any of the following actions in a discriminatory manner:

  • Deny services or other benefits (including financial aid) otherwise provided by a given health care program
  • Provide a service or benefit that is inconsistent with what is offered to others in the program
  • Segregate patients with respect to services, financial aid, or other benefits

Age Discrimination and Health Care

With the enactment of the Age Discrimination Act (ADA) of 1975, the federal government prohibited age-related discrimination by health care providers receiving funds from the DHHS. Unlike the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, which applies to those 40 and older, the ADA covers people of all ages. For example, an otherwise prime candidate for an organ transplant cannot be denied just because he or she is of an advanced age. However, there are some instances where the ADA does not apply, such as when another federal, state, or local law:

  • Provides specific benefits to people based on their age;
  • Creates age-related criteria for participation in a given program; or
  • Uses age-related terms to describe intended beneficiaries of a treatment or procedure

Gender Discrimination and Obamacare

The Affordable Care Act prohibits health insurers from charging different rates based on gender (or health status) on plans sold after 2014. For instance, two otherwise comparable health insurance beneficiaries must be charged roughly the same even if one of them is a woman and thus requires regular gynecological services. Similarly, woman of child bearing age cannot be charged more because they might get pregnant.

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