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5 Key Components of Section 1557 Compliance

Published on February 26, 2019 by Graham Newnum

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Health and Human Services’ July 2016 ruling on Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act has been in effect for nearly three years. As hospitals and healthcare organizations continue to work towards compliance, here's a review of what the law requires in terms of language access: 

1. SECTION 1557 COVERS MOST PROVIDERS AND CARRIES SPECIFIC POSTING MANDATES

Section 1557 applies to healthcare organizations and programs that:

- Receive federal funding (such as hospitals or doctors that accept Medicare/Medicaid). Excludes Medicare Part B.

- Are administered by the HHS itself (such as Medicare Part D).

- Participate in Health Insurance Marketplaces.

1557 requires covered providers to post a notice of nondiscrimination and taglines (short statements advising language services are available) in the state’s/hospital’s top 15 languages.

Find your top 15 languages by downloading Health and Human Services’ PDF. Then download HHS’s free translated taglines, available in 64 languages. CyraCom clients can contact their account manager or client services for access to customizable language notification posters with more than 100 languages and translations available.

2. SECTION 1557 REQUIRES STAFF TO BE QUALIFIED BEFORE INTERPRETING FOR PATIENTS

Under 1557, bilingual staff must have interpreting listed as part of “the individual’s current, assigned job responsibilities” in order to act as interpreters. Staff members must also have demonstrated that they are:

- “Proficient in speaking and understanding both spoken English and at least one other spoken language, including any necessary specialized vocabulary, terminology, and phraseology.”

- “Able to effectively, accurately, and impartially communicate directly with individuals with limited-English proficiency in their primary languages.”

Demonstrating these skills may require interpreter training, testing, or certification. CyraCom offers staff testing and training for staff interpreters, as well as bilingual doctors and nurses who wish to interpret. We test both language proficiency and interpreter skills.

3. SECTION 1557 PROHIBITS USING THE PATIENT'S FAMILY OR FRIENDS AS INTERPRETERS

Family may seem like a convenient alternative to professional interpretation, but their emotional involvement and lack of formal interpreter training and certification may impact accuracy.

Section 1557 prohibits the use of:

- A patient’s minor children (except in emergencies to prevent imminent patient harm).

- Adult family and friends (unless the patient refuses an interpreter – provider may still utilize an interpreter if they determine the family member/friend cannot interpret adequately).

4. SECTION 1557 SETS SPECIFIC QUALITY STANDARDS FOR REMOTE INTERPRETATION

HHS’s ruling supports using qualified phone and video interpreters to help providers deliver timely language access to their LEP patients.

The ruling also establishes quality standards for video interpretation, linking it to standards set for ASL interpretation by the Americans with Disabilities Act, including:

- “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.

- A sharply delineated image that is large enough to display the interpreter’s face, arms, hands, and fingers, and the participating individual’s face, arms, hands, and fingers, regardless of his or her body position.

- A clear, audible transmission of voices.

- Adequate training to users of the technology and other involved individuals so that they may quickly and efficiently set up and operate the VRI.”

CyraCom’s unified phone and video interpretation solutions comply with all Section 1557 requirements.

5. SECTION 1557 EMPOWERS PATIENTS TO SUE FOR DISCRIMINATION IF DENIED LANGUAGE ACCESS

Section 1557 enables LEP patients to claim disparate impact – that a provider’s failure to offer language access discriminates against non-English speakers on the basis of national origin. Under the new law, patients can file lawsuits against providers who do not “take reasonable steps to provide meaningful access.”

These provisions add to the enforcement mechanisms found in Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which allow fines and Medicare/Medicaid cuts for noncompliant hospitals but do not enable individual patients to sue for discrimination. Staff should understand the potential consequences of noncompliance and be well-trained in accessing an interpreter quickly and efficiently.

Read our Section 1557 whitepaper to learn more about the language access mandates therein:

Section 1557 Guide Compliance