Health Reform WK-EDGE ACA explicitly borrowed from Rehabilitation Act for enforcement mechanisms, including SOL
Monday, January 27, 2020

ACA explicitly borrowed from Rehabilitation Act for enforcement mechanisms, including SOL

By Jeffrey H. Brochin, J.D.

A discrimination claim that alleged a violation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) (P.L. 111-148), was enabled by the Rehabilitation Act, and the ACA explicitly applied that Act for its enforcement mechanisms.

A federal district court in New York found that the statute of limitations applicable to a discrimination claim under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) (P.L. 111-148) was governed by the state statute of limitations of the relevant anti-discrimination statute referenced in § 1557 of the ACA, which in the instant case was the three year statute of limitations of the Rehabilitation Ac. Accordingly, the court granted the motion to dismiss filed by Northwell Health (Vega-Ruiz v. Northwell HealthJanuary 14, 2020, Hurley, D.).

Failure to provide ASL interpreter. A health care proxy who was deaf and relied on American Sign Language interpretation, accompanied her brother to a Northwell hospital at the time of his surgical procedure in October, 2015. She requested that the hospital provide an ASL interpreter in order to assist her brother and understand the procedure being performed. However, she claimed that the hospital did not provide "any auxiliary aids or services" to her, and that she was told by hospital staff that she was not entitled to an ASL interpreter because she was not the patient receiving treatment, and, because her brother, who was the patient, had the ability to hear, they were under no obligation to comply with her request.

She subsequently filed suit against the hospital for failure to provide her with an ASL interpreter in violation of section 1557 of the ACA. The hospital moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6), and, based on the statute of limitations having lapsed, which, for the reasons stated below, the court granted.

Relevant section of the ACA. The court began its analysis by noting that Section 1557 of the ACA provides that an individual shall not, on the ground prohibited under title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the Age Discrimination Act of 1975, or section 794 of title 29 [also known as Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act], be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under, any health program or activity, any part of which is receiving Federal financial assistance. The parties agreed that for the purposes of the instant litigation, the relevant anti-discrimination statute enumerated in the ACA was § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

Determining which statute of limitations applies. Because § 1557 did not provide a statute of limitations, the hospital argued that the court should apply New York’s three-year statute of limitations for personal injury actions as is generally applied to Rehabilitation Act claims. Conversely, the plaintiff argued that the relevant statute of limitations came from 28 U.S.C. § 1658, which provides that, "except as otherwise provided by law, a civil action arising under an Act of Congress enacted after 1990 may not be commenced later than 4 years after the cause of action accrues."

ACA claims made possible by Rehabilitation Act. The court considered that in the instant case, although the complaint formally alleged a violation of the ACA, the claim was made possible by the Rehabilitation Act. The ACA explicitly borrowed from the Rehabilitation Act, among other statutes, and stated that "the enforcement mechanisms provided for and available under such [Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act] shall apply for purposes of violations of this subsection."

Accordingly, the ACA did not create a new cause of action, but rather ensured that existing anti-discrimination statutes would apply to health programs or activities that received federal funding. Furthermore, the plaintiff’s arguments regarding the sufficiency of her allegations recited the standard for stating a Section 504 Rehabilitation Act claim, and her claim could in fact have been brought directly under the Rehabilitation Act.

Based on the foregoing, the court was persuaded by the reasoning in precedentthat the New York state statute of limitations should apply to plaintiff’s claim, which was, in effect, a Rehabilitation Act claim, and they therefore applied the Rehabilitation Act’s three year statute of limitations. Because she filed her complaint on January 28, 2019, more than three years after the October 13, 2015 hospital visit, her claim was ruled untimely, and the hospital’s motion to dismiss was granted.

The case is No. 2:19-cv-00537-DRH-AYS.

Attorneys: Andrew Rozynski (Eisenberg & Baum, LLP) for Lissette Vega-Ruiz. John P. Keil (Collazo & Keil LLP) for Northwell Health., Long Island Jewish Valley Stream and Long Island Jewish Medical Center.

Companies: Northwell Health.; Long Island Jewish Valley Stream; Long Island Jewish Medical Center

Cases: CaseDecisions AccessNews NewYorkNews NewsFeed

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