Feds Issue Warning about Denying Care to Individuals with Disabilities

Federal workers are currently reminding the country’s health care workers that withholding treatment due to an individual’s disability is frequently illegal. Withholding services in such a way is illegal even if resources are few.

The US Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights is currently informing providers that civil rights liberties for disabled individuals are still “full force” despite the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of a statement, the Department stated that civil rights law remains regardless of what happens including pandemics and that it is vital that the country works to make sure that fairness exists for all patients.

Additionally, the Department stated that the pandemic has illuminated the disparities that exist in the healthcare system and provided healthcare workers with the chance to resolve these disparities. 

Prohibitions about Denying Care

Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act as well as Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, health care workers are prohibited from denying or limiting individuals from engaging in programs or other activities on the basis of disability. These protections extend to hospitalization, long-term care, and intensive treatment in addition to Covid-19 testing. 

Federal civil rights regulations apply to state crisis care plans as well as other measures taken to ration limited resources. Since the Covid-19 pandemic began, the Health and Human Services Part of the Office for Civil Rights has worked on addressing concerns raised by advocates throughout the country claiming that crisis standards of care plans discriminate against disabled individuals. Part of the guidelines provided by the department includes a frequently asked questions section that features a sample of situations that healthcare workers might face. 

When resources are limited during public health emergencies, guidelines state that health care workers must study the specific individual’s capacity to benefit from the treatment pursued away from stereotypes and bias involving disability. This study must consider preconceptions involving disability prejudices and assessments of patient quality of life.

Individuals can be refused care if the chances are not good that care will be effective given their current condition. 

The Covid-19 Pandemic and Limited Resources

During public health emergencies like the Covid-19 pandemic, stereotypes can end up negatively impacting decision-making in regard to hospitals and other medical providers who face limited resources. The Office, however, will continue to enforce federal civil rights that protect individuals with disabilities from being subject to discrimination including in situations where crisis standards of care are involved. 

A spokesperson for the American Association of People with Disabilities has stated that disability advocates have been arguing for this type of guidance since the pandemic started. The spokesperson commented that while wishes exist that guidance would have been issued earlier, recent documents including the frequently asked question section by the department will help health care providers and individuals with disabilities make sure that no individual with a disability is declined care.

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