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Like other healthcare organizations, federally funded dental practices must comply with Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to protect patients from discrimination. Dentists and their staff need to know how discrimination is defined, how 1557 applies to the practice, and how to implement processes that deliver quality care and communication to all patients.

Figuring out where to start can feel overwhelming. If you were to print out a copy of Section 1557, it’d be almost 100 pages. That’s why we’ve complied a quick overview of what dentists need to know:

ACA Section 1557 Overview

  • Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act prohibits discrimination on the grounds of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability by dental practices receiving federal financial assistance.
  • “National origin discrimination” covers an individual’s place of origin, his or her ancestor’s place of origin, or an individual’s manifestation of the physical, cultural, or linguistic characteristics of a national origin group. This includes the language an individual does (or does not) speak.

How Section 1557 Applies to Dental Practices

  • According to the American Dental Association’s (ADA) Section 1557 analysis, “Covered dental practices must take appropriate steps to ensure that communications with patients, prospective patients, members of the public, and companions with disabilities are as effective as communications with others. Dental practices must furnish appropriate auxiliary aids and services where necessary to give individuals with disabilities an equal opportunity to participate in, and enjoy the benefits of, a service, program, or activity of the dental practice.”
  • Compliance requirements for dental practices include providing notice, recordkeeping and access to records, and prohibiting intimidation and retaliation.

Why is compliance with Section 1557 imperative?

Section 1557 is enforced by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR), the same federal agency that administers HIPAA. OCR has the authority to receive and handle complaints, initiate and conduct compliance reviews, conduct investigations, make enforcement referrals to the Department of Justice, and take other remedial action it deems necessary. Individuals may also be entitled to bring lawsuits alleging violation of Section 1557.

Beyond penalties and enforcement, providing language services for limited-English proficient (LEP) or Deaf/patients or part of the Deaf/hard-of-hearing (DHOH) community is a good business practice. It will satisfy patients’ expectations for clear communication and improve patient outcomes.

Also, the principle of Patient Autonomy within the ADA Code of Ethics states, “the dentist’s primary obligations include involving patients in treatment decisions in a meaningful way, with due consideration being given to the patient’s needs, desires and abilities, and safeguarding the patient’s privacy.”

How dental practices can comply with Section 1557

Section 1557’s requires covered entities to provide the following accommodations for LEP patients:

  • Take reasonable steps to provide meaningful access to each individual with LEP eligible to be served or likely to be encountered within the entities’ health programs and activities. Reasonable steps may include language assistance services, such as interpretation services or written translation.
  • Post a notice of individuals’ rights that provides information about communication assistance for individuals with LEP in your office, on your website, and alongside important documents, such as health history and informed consent forms.
  • Post a shorter statement when there is not enough room to post the full notices.
  • Post taglines in the top 15 languages spoken in your community that indicate the availability of language assistance.
  • Don’t use unqualified staff or family members to serve as interpreters or translators when providing language assistance services.

For more details about the latest Section 1557 requirements, check out this helpful resource:

ACA Section 1557 Final Rule: What’s changed and what’s the same

Do you need language services for your dental practice?

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Lindsay Lawson

Lindsay Lawson

An experienced researcher, writer, and editor on language services-related topics, specializing in interpreting and translation services, how language works.