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Managed Care Programs Must Have Digital Information Comply With Modern Accessibility Standards

June 16, 2017 3:45:08 PM EDT

Effective July 1, 2017, new Medicaid rules will require managed care programs to have digital information comply with modern accessibility standards

It's hard to think of a sector where website accessibility is more important than health care. People with disabilities interact frequently with their health care providers and often must rely on digital communication methods to get the care they need.

This means that it's especially important that all people can use health care websites to request their patient records, correspond with medical professionals, make appointments, and complete any number of other important tasks. But what exactly does accessibility mean for health care websites, and how will it be changing in the future?

The Current State of Website Accessibility in Health Care

Since 1998, the websites of federal agencies have been subject to the standards of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. This law requires that people with disabilities must receive equal access to electronic information and data unless doing so would create an undue burden. Section 508 establishes a list of criteria that must be met for a website to be deemed compliant with these standards, such as providing textual equivalents of all non-text elements and refraining from using color as the sole means of conveying information.

Last year, however, the Department of Health and Human Services created what's known as the “meaningful access rule” under Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act. These new requirements apply to any health care provider or service collecting federal funds, which means that any provider receiving Medicare reimbursements from the government will be impacted.

The meaningful access rule, which took effect in July 2016, has two implications for health care websites: Firstly, any affected entity must take steps to avoid discriminating based on disabilities. Secondly, these entities must make electronic and information technology (EIT) accessible to those with disabilities, which includes everything from office equipment and hardware to software and of course websites.

Upcoming Changes to Health Care Web Accessibility

New regulations are soon coming into effect that will further impact website accessibility for health care organizations. Beginning July 1, 2017, all managed care programs under the Medicaid umbrella must make their EIT compliant with modern accessibility standards.

Neither the meaningful access rule nor the upcoming Medicaid rule include explicit requirements for the accessibility standards that health care websites must meet. However, both regulations suggest two sufficient standards to follow: the older Section 508 standards, as well as the newer Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level AA.

WCAG 2.0 AA has been the choice of countless organizations across a variety of industries that seek to meet accessibility standards. In fact, the WCAG 2.0 AA standards are now part of Section 508, thanks to the final rule updating Section 508 in January 2017. So how can health care organizations adopt the WCAG standards to be compliant with the new rules?

Applying WCAG 2.0 AA Standards to Health Care

The creators of the WCAG 2.0 AA standards have created a reference for websites to judge their compliance with the given requirements. Some of the relevant concerns for health care websites include:

  • All non-textual context has a textual alternative equivalent.
  • Captions, transcripts, and alternatives to prerecorded audio and video are available.
  • Text can be resized and made at least twice as large without losing website functionality.
  • The website is fully accessible through a keyboard-only interface.
  • Titles, headings, and labels orient and inform the user.
  • Unusual words and language (such as medical terminology) can be easily defined.

Who Can Help?

The Bureau of Internet Accessibility is dedicated to helping organizations comply with all legal requirements. BoIA provides accessibility audits, testing, training, and remediation services. Contact us today to make sure your websites and mobile apps meet accessibility standards.

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