The window to prepare for the open enrollment period is closing, with the October 15 deadline already on the horizon.
With one in four adults in the US reporting to have some sort of disability, it is crucial to address the challenges they may face when making decisions about their healthcare coverage. A significant portion of the population report obstacles stemming from disabilities or limited English proficiency during the enrollment process. To foster a fair and inclusive healthcare environment, it is vital to ensure that all individuals, regardless of their ability, are afforded equal access to critical healthcare information. Let’s identify and address some potential gaps that may complicate a beneficiary’s ability to access details about their health plan throughout the open enrollment period.
Understanding the Challenges:
Those with disabilities face several obstacles during the annual enrollment period. Visual impairments can pose challenges, such as limitations in reading fine print, or the absence of braille options. Cognitive impairments may negatively impact a beneficiary’s understanding of complex healthcare information while physical disabilities can make completing paper forms difficult. These can be further compounded in cases where a beneficiary has limited English proficiency, making it imperative to address accessibility and translation requirements for all open enrollment plan materials to ensure inclusivity and equal access to information.
Regulatory Compliance and Penalties:
Regulatory frameworks have been established to ensure health plans are facilitating equitable access to this information, including Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) guidelines and Section 508/Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
While specific guidelines may evolve, the CMS continues to emphasize the importance of making health plan information accessible to individuals with disabilities and those with limited English proficiency. Their guidelines are laid out to ensure health plan information is provided in accessible formats, allowing individuals with disabilities to fully understand their coverage options. These guidelines align closely with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). Compliance with these standards ensures that digital content, including websites and online documentation, is accessible to all, including those with disabilities.
Key aspects of CMS guidelines include:
- Alternate Formats: Health plans are required to offer information in accessible formats, such as large print, braille, and audio recordings, to facilitate individuals with visual/auditory/cognitive impairments or other disabilities that may impact reading or comprehension.
- Auxiliary Aids and Services: Providers must provide auxiliary aids and services to assist individuals with disabilities in accessing and understanding plan information. This may include interpreters, translation services, and accessible technology options, such as specially designed applications, devices, and digital platforms.
- Training and Compliance: CMS guidelines highlight the importance of training staff members to communicate effectively with individuals who have disabilities or limited English proficiency. Programs may include online modules, in-person training sessions, or a combination of both. CMS provides resources and materials to assist health plans when developing accessibility training for staff, ensuring they are adequately equipped to support all beneficiaries during the open enrollment period, regardless of ability.
Bridging Accessibility Gaps & Expanding Options for Member Engagement:
Health plans are encouraged to proactively identify and bridge accessibility gaps as early as possible when preparing for open enrollment season. The first step is partnering with an experienced vendor to assess accessibility options against regulatory guidelines and highlight areas of opportunity for improvement. For example, a plan that is already providing large-print materials, braille options, audio recordings, etc. may notice gaps in staff training and ability to handle inquiries from disabled or limited English proficient beneficiaries sensitively and effectively. Once the issue has been ascertained, plans can take steps to ensure holistic accessibility options are available throughout all mechanisms of the enrollment process.
As a result, health plans are in a stronger position to enhance member engagement and drive enrollment numbers. Accessible formats, such as large-print materials, audio descriptions, and multilingual translations, enable prospective beneficiaries to understand their coverage options and make informed decisions. This inclusive approach also fosters trust, improves communication, and strengthens the relationship between health plans and beneficiaries.
Between now and the October 15 deadline, health plans should seek to prioritize accessibility in their plan materials and documentation. Recognizing and bridging accessibility gaps in adherence with CMS guidelines and Section 508/WCAG requirements can drive member engagement and mitigate potential compliance risks. Partnering with a trusted vendor to create and implement a robust accessibility framework for the open enrollment period ensures a seamless experience for beneficiaries, empowering them to make the best decisions about their coverage options.
The reliable partner can ensure compliance with regulatory standards, provide expertise in accommodating beneficiaries with disabilities, and offer scalable solutions to remediate plan materials in a timely, accurate manner.
TransPerfect is trusted by leading health plans in the US to manage their remediation and translation efforts throughout the open enrollment season, and throughout the year. Reach out today to learn more about our accessibility solutions designed with health plans and their beneficiaries in mind.