Department of Health and Human Services
Fiscal Year 2019
Office for Civil Rights
Justification of Estimates for Appropriations Committees
Section II: Executive Summary
Introduction and Mission
The Office for Civil Rights (OCR), a staff division in the Office of the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), ensures that individuals receiving services from HHS-conducted or HHS-funded programs are not subject to unlawful discrimination, individuals and entities can exercise their conscience and religious freedom rights, and people can trust the privacy, security, and availability of their health information. By rooting out discrimination and removing unlawful barriers to HHS-being of all Americans and providing essential human services. By ensuring individuals and institutions can exercise their conscience rights, OCR furthers justice and tolerance in a pluralistic society. By promoting the right to access health information and protecting the privacy and security of this information, OCR helps empower people’s health care decision-making and helps ensure the integrity of the health care system, both of which promote better health outcomes for the nation.
As the enforcement agency for HHS’s civil rights, conscience and religious freedom, and health privacy rights law, OCR investigates complaints, enforces rights, and promulgates regulations, develops policy and provides technical assistance and public education to ensure understanding of and compliance with non-discrimination of health information privacy laws. OCR accomplishes this by:
- Ensuring that recipients of HHS federal financial assistance comply with federal civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, disability, age, sex, and religion.
- Ensuring that Federal agencies, state and local governments, health care providers, health plans, and others comply with federal laws guaranteeing the exercise of religious beliefs and moral convictions in HHS conducted or funded programs.
- Ensuring the practices of health care providers, health plans, health care clearinghouses, and their business associates adhere to federal privacy, security, and breach notification regulations under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA), as amended, through the investigation of complaints, self-reports of breaches, compliance reviews, and audits.
OCR enforces the laws prohibiting discrimination, including discrimination against those who exercise conscience and religious freedom rights, and protecting the rights of individuals to access their health information and the privacy and security of this information. Through these mechanisms, OCR helps to ensure equal access to health and human services, advances the health and well-being of all Americans, protect individuals’ private health information, and provides the tools for provider awareness and full consumer engagement in decisions related to their health care.