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CMS/Medicare Compliance

Part 1 - ADA Compliance for Agencies

By: Chalen Jackson, Compliance Officer for McNerney Management Group

In our blog series “Compliance-More than Medicare” Chalen Jackson, Compliance Officer for McNerney Management Group, will present top level overview of a number of critical compliance exposures agents may overlook or not completely understand. These articles are not an exhaustive study of the regulations presented, but a good starting point to better protect your agency!

What You Should Know

In an industry fraught with compliance concerns on all fronts, it can be difficult to keep track of everything you are responsible for being in compliance with. One often overlooked area is accessibility requirements under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). As an agent in the senior market serving a population with some of the highest rates of accessibility issues, this is not just a critical legal issue but critical to your continued success as a business.

After several calls from agents who received or know someone who has received a demand letter or notice of suit being filed, it seemed like a good time to dive into the ADA and how it can affect your agency.

Do I need to Comply with ADA Guidelines?

The short answer is YES! There are two main classifications of businesses that must comply with ADA guidelines.

Title I classified businesses which have:

      • More than 15 full time employees
      • Operate at least 20 weeks out of the year

And:

Title III classified businesses that are considered “public accommodations” , which includes insurance offices.

Physical Accessibility

One of the initial tenets of the ADA was ensuring those with disabilities could access physical spaces like grocers, offices, and public transit. This resulted in many now common changes to businesses like wheelchair accessible ramps, designated handicap parking spaces, and wider doorways and aisles in stores and offices.

If you have an office space where clients can meet with you, you are responsible for maintaining compliance with ADA guidelines. If your building or office was constructed in the last 20 years, you may be in a “Safe Harbor” from the most recent changes to the ADA in 2010. See this Guide to give you a clear look at ADA guidelines and whether you are currently in compliance.

Some ADA compliance is in based on communication disabilities such as blindness or deafness, that may require accommodation such as braille plan documents or a sign language interpreter.

Website Accessibility

With the world being more online than ever, website accessibility has become the most pressing topic in the discussion around accessibility. Businesses that fall under ADA guidelines are required to take measures to ensure their websites are accessible to those using screen readers and other tools for the blind and hearing impaired. This can seem like a complex and time-consuming process. I recommend reaching out to your web services provider for assistance.

Creating an accessible website is not just the law, its good business. Adding the ability to better serve some of our most vulnerable seniors through better access to your services. The guidance you provide can be life changing in connecting people with the benefits available to them.

Consequences

Of course, any set of rules and regulations is likely to come with penalties for non-compliance. Violations of the ADA can result in a maximum first violation civil penalty of $75,000, and a maximum of $150,000 per subsequent violation. In addition to federal ADA violations, several states have their own laws that may subject businesses to further penalties.

Not only are there legal and financial consequences to non-compliance, but also the potential for severe reputational damage to you and your business. Nothing is harder to regain than the trust and respect of your clients. Protect all that you have worked for by engaging in ADA compliance efforts and striving to better serve all potential clients.

Resources

Reach out to your carriers for accessibility resources for clients and meetings. They should be able to provide plan and marketing materials in Braille and large print formats. They should have access to sign language interpreters or other tools for communicating effectively with the hard of hearing. Below are many great resources that, while not exhaustive, dive much deeper on the subject of ADA compliance.

DISCLAIMER: This is not legal advice, but a general overview of a possible risk exposure for your agency. Please reach out with any questions, but also consider consulting an attorney with any legal concerns, and your web services provider for assistance in bringing your website into compliance.

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