HHS Takes Action to Break Language Barriers

October 12, 2022

Today, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is announcing a number of steps to improve language access through HHS programs and advance the Biden-Harris Administration’s goal of overcoming barriers to equity in health care and human services.

HHS is taking steps to improve meaningful communication with limited English proficient (LEP) individuals by relaunching its Language Access Steering Committee (Steering Committee) to support HHS’s implementation of language access obligations under President Joe Biden’s recent Executive Orders (EOs), as well as similar obligations under the HHS Equity Action Plan. As part of this Steering Committee, all HHS agencies will reassess and update their language access plans to ensure that LEP persons have meaningful access to HHS-administered health and human services programs and activities.

Simultaneously, the HHS Office of Minority Health (OMH) is announcing more than $4 million in grants to 11 organizations for an initiative called Promoting Equitable Access to Language Services in Health and Human Services. This three-year initiative covers developing and testing methods of informing individuals with LEP about the availability of language access services in health care-related settings.

“We know that people with limited English proficiency too often face discrimination when seeking health care and human services,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra. “The risk of misinformation, the wrong type of care, or foregoing care altogether is high when language barriers persist. We’re putting policy into action to eliminate barriers to equitable care and leave no one behind.”

It is a violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for recipients of federal financial assistance to fail to take reasonable steps to provide meaningful access to people whose primary language is not English. In addition, Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act requires recipients of federal financial assistance to take reasonable steps to provide meaningful access to health programs and activities to persons with limited English proficiency.

“Ensuring appropriate communication with patients who have limited English proficiency is critical to providing high-quality care. Reliance on unqualified individuals to interpret medical information can lead to misunderstandings, devastating outcomes, or even death,” said HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) Director, Melanie Fontes Rainer. “OCR is proud to lead the HHS Language Access Steering Committee and the Department’s work to exemplify ways that organizations can assess their programs and develop language access plans to ensure persons with LEP have meaningful access to their programs, free of barriers or discrimination.”

“With more than 26 million people in the United States who do not speak English as their primary language and who have a limited ability to read, speak, write, or understand English, people with limited English proficiency have a higher risk for experiencing health care disparities,” said Rear Admiral Felicia Collins, M.D., Deputy Assistant Secretary for Minority Health. “By identifying innovative strategies to enhance access to language services in health care, our new initiative will further support OMH’s efforts to advance health equity for all.”

Through the new OMH initiative, recipients will implement and evaluate strategies to enhance language access services through policy development and implementation, technology utilization, education for individuals with LEP, and education for providers, including medical support staff. Awardees are expected to address health disparities among individuals with LEP and demonstrate the impact of those efforts on outcomes and the overarching goal of advancing health equity.

The recipients of OMH’s Promoting Equitable Access to Language Services in Health and Human Services initiative are:

Award Recipients

City

State

Award Amount

Asian Resources, Inc.

Sacramento 

CA

$375,000

Georgia State University Research Foundation, Inc.

Atlanta

GA

$310,076

Asian Health Coalition

Chicago

IL

$370,000

Wichita State University

Wichita

KS

$375,000

Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, Inc.

Baltimore

MD

$375,000

Tufts University

Boston

MA

$374,929

Family Voices Inc.

Lexington

MA

$375,000

New York University Grossman School of Medicine

New York

NY

$374,998

Western Carolina Medical Society Foundation

Asheville

NC

$375,000

Thomas Jefferson University

Philadelphia 

PA

$375,000

Bexar County Hospital District DBA University Health

San Antonio 

TX

$375,000

Total: $4,055,003

 

Today’s actions help fulfill obligations under the following EOs: EO 13985, Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government; EO 13166, Improving Access to Services for Persons With Limited English Proficiency; EO 14031, Advancing Equity, Justice, and Opportunity for Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders; EO 13995, Ensuring an Equitable Pandemic Response and Recovery; as well as the 2022-2026 HHS Strategic Plan; and the 2013 HHS Language Access Plan.

Source: HHS Office of Minority Health