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Federal Government Proposes New Rules to Prevent Discriminatory Health Practices

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The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has proposed a new rule intended to protect people from discriminatory practices in health care.

The Nondiscrimination in Health Programs and Activitiesrule is designed to help provide some of the populations that have been most vulnerable to discrimination equal access to health care and coverage, the agency announced late last week.

The proposed rule expands upon current civil rights law that prevents discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, age or disability. It would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex in health care, including gender identity discrimination as a form of sex discrimination.

Dr. Amy Holthouser, the University of Louisville's associate dean for medical education, said people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender have worse health outcomes than the general population. She said research has shown those outcomes are related to receiving poor care.

"By paying better attention and teaching about special needs in different populations, including LGBT populations, we really hope to give everybody the best care," she said.

The sex discrimination portion of the rule says women must have equal access to health insurance and health care. The rule also says people must be treated consistently with their gender identity, and that sex-specific health care cannot be denied or limited just because the person seeking such services identifies as belonging to another gender.

The proposed rule also enhances language assistance for people with limited English proficiency and requires effective communication for individuals with disabilities.

Hospitals and other facilities receiving funding from HHS will be required to post a notice of consumer rights providing information about communication assistance and post taglines in the top 15 languages spoken by individuals with LEP nationally, indicating the availability of such assistance.

Holthouser said there have been growing efforts in teaching doctors how to provide culturally competent care to patients.

"Working with that patient to identify their understanding of health and illness, and the best way to communicate with them and how to negotiate with them about specific diagnosis and treatment in a way that meets their needs and isn't overly intrusive," she said.

The proposed rules will be open for comment until Nov. 6.

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