Civil Rights as Treatment for Health Insurance Discrimination

Valarie K. Blake

Section 1557 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) broadly prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, gender, age, and disability in healthcare programs or activities receiving federal dollars. The provision should hold interest for civil rights scholars and health policy scholars alike. It’s the first civil rights statute to combine four different civil rights statutes into a single provision creating nightmarish ambiguity about the proper standards for cause of action and remedy. Section 1557 also represents the first civil rights statute to broadly tackle discrimination in healthcare, including private health insurance, and to apply sex discrimination to healthcare (including discrimination based on gender identity and possibly sexual orientation).