Age Discrimination in Healthcare

What is age discrimination?

Federal law prohibits discrimination based on age in programs and activities that receive federal funding.  This applies to HRSA funded healthcare programs, which may not exclude, limit, or deny services to an individual based on their age. This document only covers age discrimination in the context of HRSA funded healthcare programs, not employment.

What are examples of age discrimination in healthcare?


A medical school does not accept applicants that are over 35 years old, even if they are qualified.  The school claims that it has an objective to teach medical students who will practice for as long as possible.

  • Why is this discrimination?
    The purpose of medical schools is to train and educate medical professionals, not to ensure they practice for as long as possible. Because this program is excluding applicants solely based on age, this practice is discriminatory.


A hospital has a separate geriatrics wing. Patients in this wing receive less supervision and recreational opportunities than patients in other wings of the hospital.

  • Why is this discrimination?
    Because the separation is solely based on age and results in the limitation of services (i.e., supervision and recreational opportunities), this practice is discriminatory.


An 82-year-old patient is determined ineligible to receive an organ transplant based on her life expectancy. 

  • Why is this discrimination?
    While both a patient’s life expectancy and current state of health may be correlated to age, age alone should not be used to restrict access to organ transplantation. 

When can people be treated differently based on their age?


A program may target recruiting youths into their program around STD prevention if there was previously a low involvement from this age group.

  • Why is this permitted?
    If a healthcare program or activity is addressing limited participation from a certain age group, the program may target that age group to increase equal access to services.


A hospital treats children under 16 in a separate unit from the adults. This is allowed because the program is targeting children to provide special pediatric benefits, such as areas for play, which are comparable to recreational opportunities provided to the older adults.

  • Why is this permitted?
    If a healthcare program or activity provides comparable special benefits for older adults and children, the program may target their services to these populations.

A program can also align with age specifications that are contained within an HHS statute or regulation.

In addition to the above exceptions, a program can use age as a factor for participation in their programs or services if the following 4 criteria are all met.


  • An early childhood education center promotes educational, social, and nutritional development of enrolled children. The center limits participation in their program to children who are at least 3 years old.
4 Criteria Explanation

1.  Age is being used as a measure for another characteristic.

The minimum age restriction is used to measure the development of the child to ensure that child is able to benefit from the center’s services.

2.  The characteristic being measured by age must be essential for the program to meet its goal.

A child’s readiness for a preschool development program is essential for the program to meet its goal of promoting the development of children. Allowing children under 3 years old would require the program to significantly change its objectives and activities to incorporate infant care.

3.  The characteristic can be measured using age.

Three years old is a reasonable estimate for when children can perform basic activities, such as feeding themselves, listening to directions, and controlling bodily functions, which allows this center to meet its objective in advancing child development.

4.  It is impractical to measure this characteristic without using age.

It is impractical to directly measure every individual child’s level of physical, mental, and emotional development without using age.



For questions related to civil rights and discrimination based on age, please contact the Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA), Office of Civil Rights, Diversity, and Inclusion (OCRDI).

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