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Office for Civil Rights

Collage of people over the map of the United StatesFederal civil rights laws and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy Rule, together protect your fundamental rights of nondiscrimination and health information privacy. Civil Rights help to protect you from unfair treatment or discrimination, because of your race, color, national origin, disability, age, sex (gender), or religion. Federal laws also provide conscience protections for health care providers.

The Privacy Rule protects the privacy of your health information; it says who can look at and receive your health information, and also gives you specific rights over that information.  In addition, the Patient Safety Act and Rule establish a voluntary reporting system to enhance the data available to assess and resolve patient safety and health care quality issues and provides confidentiality protections for patient safety concerns.

Civil Rights


Health Information Privacy Rights

OCR helps to protect you from discrimination in certain health care and social service programs. Some of these programs may include:

  • Hospitals, health clinics, nursing homes
  • Medicaid and Medicare agencies
  • Welfare programs
  • Day care centers
  • Doctors’ offices and pharmacies
  • Children’s health programs
  • Alcohol and drug treatment centers
  • Adoption agencies
  • Mental health and developmental disabilities agencies

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By enforcing the Privacy and Security Rules, OCR helps to protect the privacy of your health information held by health insurers and certain health care providers and health insurers. Some of these providers and insurers may include:

  • Doctors and nurses
  • Pharmacies
  • Hospitals, clinics, and nursing homes
  • Health insurance companies
  • Health maintenance organizations (HMOs)
  • Employer group health plans
  • Certain government programs that pay for health care, such as Medicare and Medicaid

OCR also enforces the confidentiality provisions of the Patient Safety Act and Rule.

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What Does OCR Do To Protect Your Rights?

  • OCR teaches health and social service workers about civil rights, health information privacy, and patient safety confidentiality laws that they must follow.

  • OCR educates communities about civil rights and health information privacy rights.

  • OCR investigates civil rights, health information privacy and patient safety confidentiality complaints to find out if there is discrimination or violation of the law and takes action to correct problems.

What Can You Do If You Believe Your Federal Health Care Rights Are Violated?

  • You can file a civil rights, health information privacy, or patient safety confidentiality complaint with OCR, or someone else can file for you. Some complaints must be filed within 180 days of when you believe your rights were violated. Learn more about filing a complaint