Every law student learns the ancient adage that there is no right without a remedy. Section 1557 makes clear that individuals have rights against discrimination in healthcare and a private right of action to enforce them. But it’s less clear as to when and how they have remedies.
Section 1557 provides individuals protection against discrimination on “the ground prohibited under” four preexisting civil rights statutes–Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, Title IX of the Education Amendments, the Age Discrimination Act, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. The statute also makes available “the enforcement mechanisms provided for and available under” these four civil rights statutes. This language makes two things clear. First, Section 1557 prohibits discrimination on grounds of race, color, or national origin (Title VI); sex (Title IX); age (Age Discrimination Act); and disability (Rehab Act). Second, as district courts have agreed, the statute authorizes both private rights of action and agency enforcement as “enforcement mechanisms.”
So far, so good. But each statute has its own specific legal standards, and remedies. For example, a plaintiff alleging age discrimination under the Age Discrimination Act must first exhaust administrative remedies. By contrast, a plaintiff can file a private suit directly when suing under Title IX. And private parties can’t bring lawsuits targeting policies with disparate impacts on racial minorities under Title VI. But people with disabilities can allege disparate impact pursuant to Section 504.
The text of Section 1557 is ambiguous: either (1) claims that Section 1557 has been violated are treated uniformly across prohibited grounds or (2) plaintiffs have different rights and remedies depending upon whether they allege race, sex, disability, or age discrimination. Courts have already divided on this question.