2023 Health and Human Services Language Access Plan Released: New Plan, Same Goal

Equal access to health care is far from a new topic, dating back to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In recent years, there has been a noticeable increase in enforcement. In November 2021, Rite Aid Corporation reached a settlement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office due to the company’s COVID-19 registration portal not being compatible with screen reader software used by some patients with disabilities and the inability to utilize the tab key when filling out the consent form for those who have issues using a mouse. Furthermore, in the July 2023 Newsline article HHS Reports Successes in Access to Meaningful Language Assistance Services, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) relaunched the Language Access Steering Committee in October of 2022. The committee was tasked with implementing goals from the 2022 HHS Equity Plan, in part aiming to ease access to federal programs by providing language tools in an individual’s preferred language. In addition, the position of HHS Language Access Coordinator was created. They were tasked in part with updating and revising HHS’ 2013 Language Access Plan. In a November 2023 press release, HHS announced the Language Access Steering Committee issued the which prioritizes inclusivity of communication within services to the public and is applicable across every HHS agency, including the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and Office for Civil Rights (OCR).

The following are components of the 2023 Language Access Plan that is pertinent to the practice of pharmacy:

  • Each HHS agency will have an annual budget assessment that will be used to develop a budget request to enhance the agency’s ability to assist the LEP patient population
  • “Each HHS agency shall ensure access to timely, quality language assistance services (LAS) for individuals with limited English proficiency”
  • There is an increased focus on HHS agencies taking steps to ensure appropriate language assistance services, including face-to-face, virtual, or telephonic encounters, are being provided free of charge
  • There is a push to decrease the amount of family, community members, and/or children from being recruited as a translator in medical situations as research has shown negative health consequences. In its place, “qualified interpreters” who are able to interpret medical terms and adhere to patient ethics and confidentiality requirements
  • HHS agencies are to continually collect and share metrics including but not limited to identifying the primary channels of contact with LEP community members and “maintaining an inventory of who attended language access training”
  • “HHS agencies must take reasonable steps to ensure meaningful access to their programs…by persons with LEP, including notifying persons with LEP who are current or potential customers about the availability of language assistance at no cost”
  • The Language Access Plan acknowledges “health care and human services partners can provide agencies with qualitative and first-hand data on the needs of their current and potential individuals with LEP”

As we witness federal agencies increasing the effort put forth in battling health inequity, pharmacies will prove to be a key component in making a difference in the fight. Training staff to help provide equitable access to care, and potentially grow your business, is the first step. Inquire about PAAS’ Cultural Competency Training and Linguistically Appropriate Services and the PAAS Care ModelTM today!

Meredith Thiede, PharmD