OCR Celebrates Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

May is Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AA and NHPI) Heritage Month, a time to honor the diverse cultures and histories of AA and NHPI communities and show appreciation for their many contributions to our country. At the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR), we reflect on the work ahead of us to address discrimination and disparities and advance equity and equality in our country’s health and human services programs for AA and NHPI communities. As President Biden said in his , whether having called this nation home for one generation or many, we recognize the profound impact individuals from these communities have had on shaping our collective history and culture.

According to , there were approximately 24.7 million Asian American residents and approximately 1.8 million Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander residents of the United States in 2022. The AA and NHPI populations are also the fastest-growing racial group in the U.S. These communities are incredibly diverse, encompassing people with roots in more than 30 countries, from a wide range of ethnicities, cultures, and backgrounds who speak many different languages. While OCR celebrates this diversity, we know AA and NHPI communities experience unique barriers to accessing health care and human services HHS proudly delivers. That is why this year’s AA and NHPI Heritage Month theme, , is as important as ever. 

OCR enforces a range of federal privacy and  that strengthen protections for AA and NHPI communities, including Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, Titles VI and XVI of the Public Health Service Act, and Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). These laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin, as well as age, disability, and sex—including multiple or intersecting bases of discrimination. These civil rights laws are more important than ever as AA and NHPI people have a high prevalence of risk factors and health conditions because of infrequent medical visits, language and cultural barriers, and lack of health insurance. 

Advancing cultural competency, language access, and sensitivity toward their needs is particularly significant for many AA and NHPI individuals when accessing federal programs, resources, and services. In fact, over one-third of Asian Americans experience limited English proficiency (LEP) and other language barriers, which greatly increases the risk of their health needs going unmet. 

Effective communication is central to quality health care and human services. In alignment with the Biden-Harris Administration’s , OCR is taking action so everyone, regardless of their first language, has equal access to comprehensive supports. In early 2023, OCR released the , which summarizes the Department’s progress in improving meaningful access to language assistance services for people with LEP and identifies steps to ensure this important work continues. Later that year, OCR spearheaded the updated , which includes practical guidance, best practices, and action steps for HHS Operating and Staff Divisions to develop their own agency-specific language access plans to ensure meaningful access for individuals with LEP to programs and activities administered and funded by HHS.

OCR recently released a under Section 1557 of the ACA to bolster protections against discrimination in health care. Among other provisions, the final rule expands access to linguistically appropriate care and reduces language barriers by requiring reasonable steps to be taken to ensure anyone with LEP, including companions with LEP, has meaningful access to resources and services. Read the to learn more about the final rule and access OCR’s for additional information and resources. 

Addressing all forms of discrimination remains a top priority for OCR. On May 20, 2022, OCR, through the , partnered with the U.S. Department of Justice to release detailing the surge of hate crimes and hate incidents against AA and NHPI communities. The report includes guidance on how to raise public awareness of this troubling trend and steps law enforcement, public officials, and other partners can take to strengthen prevention and response efforts. As we continue to address the significant spike in hate crimes and other forms of discrimination that occurred during COVID-19 nationwide, I echo that we must remain diligent in our goal to meet the unique needs of AA and NHPI communities.

As I mentioned, the AA and NHPI communities are not a monolith; they comprise children, youth, and adults of many nationalities, ethnicities, and cultural heritages. To effectively meet their needs, we must acknowledge and appreciate the wide diversity of these communities. For too long, data collection and reporting practices have failed to measure and reflect the diversity of AA and NHPI experiences. This is why collecting and reporting data by detailed AA and NHPI subgroups, known as data disaggregation, is a top priority for the Biden-Harris Administration. This past March, OMB to Statistical Policy Directive No. 15 (SPD 15), which provides a minimum set of identity categories Federal agencies must use when collecting information on race and ethnicity. SPD 15 gives us more insight into how well Federal programs serve diverse communities across the United States, and these changes will help ensure we have the accurate data needed to address disparities and advance civil rights protections for everyone. 

OCR’s website includes civil rights and health information privacy information in the 15 most frequently spoken languages in the U.S. OCR’s is also available in 15 languages, including Chinese, Korean, Filipino, Vietnamese, and Japanese, and allows those whose primary language is not English to more easily learn about their rights and exercise those rights through our complaint portal.

During AANHPI Heritage Month, OCR renews its commitment to ensuring AA and NHPI communities have equitable access to non-discriminatory, linguistically appropriate, and culturally responsive health care and human services that strengthen their health and well-being. Please join me in celebrating these diverse communities and committing to building better health outcomes for all!

Melanie

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