On Saturday, March 28, 2020, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) of the U.S Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a Bulletin reminding entities that during the COVID-19 crisis, their obligations under laws and regulations prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, disability, age, sex, and exercise of conscience and religion in providing HHS-covered health care services remain in effect.
OCR enforces the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, the Age Discrimination Act, and Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, all of which prohibit discrimination in HHS-funded health programs and activities. These laws, like other civil rights statutes OCR enforces, remain in effect.
The Bulletin particularly focused on ensuring that covered entities do not unlawfully discriminate against people with disabilities when making decisions about their treatment during the COVID-19 health care emergency, stating that “persons with disabilities should not be denied medical care on the basis of stereotypes, assessments of quality of life, or judgments about a person’s relative ‘worth’ based on the presence or absence of disabilities or age. Decisions by covered entities concerning whether an individual is a candidate for treatment should be based on an individualized assessment of the patient and his or her circumstances, based on the best available objective medical evidence.”
The Bulletin also included a statement by OCR Director Roger Severino: “Our civil rights laws protect the equal dignity of every human life from ruthless utilitarianism. HHS is committed to leaving no one behind during an emergency, and helping health care providers meet that goal. Persons with disabilities, with limited English skills, and older persons should not be put at the end of the line for health care during emergencies.”
The Bulletin may be found at: https://www.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/ocr-bulletin-3-28-20 – PDF