Next term, the U.S. Supreme Court is set to answer two critical questions under Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act.
First, the Supreme Court has agreed to answer whether Section 1557 (by way of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act) provides for a disparate-impact cause of action for plaintiffs alleging disability discrimination. Second, the Supreme Court has agreed to answer whether claimants alleging disability discrimination under Section 504 and Section 1557 are entitled to recover monetary damages for emotional distress.
In both cases, the Supreme Court is set to resolve splits between different Federal circuits that have arrived at opposite conclusions on these questions.
In the first case, CVS Pharmacy v. Doe, the Supreme Court has the opportunity to settle a question that it has left open since 1985 in a case called Alexander v. Choate, 469 U.S. 287 (1985). Were the Court to agree that a plaintiff may assert a disparate-impact cause of action under Section 504 or Section 1557, this would permit plaintiffs to challenge facially neutral policies or practices that have a disproportionate impact against individuals on the basis of disability.
In the second case, Cummings v. Premier Rehab, the Court will decide whether the Fifth Circuit correctly ruled that damages for emotional distress are unavailable under these statutes; or whether the Eleventh Circuit ruled correctly that they are. The factual background for the Supreme Court’s review of this circuit split concerns an allegation that a deaf individual was denied an adequate American Sign Language interpreter.
Both decisions have the potential to expand the scope of liability to health systems and healthcare providers by increasing the causes of action and damages available to claimants under Section 1557 and Section 504.