Compliance Today (June 2020)
On March 28, the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released a bulletin reminding healthcare organizations of their obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, the Age Discrimination Act, and Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, which prohibit discrimination in HHS-funded health programs or activities.
The bulletin specifically targets the possibility that healthcare providers may make clinical decisions during the coronavirus pandemic that take into account patients’ disabilities. So far, data have shown that people with underlying health issues or disabilities can experience more serious symptoms than people without them. The concern is that doctors may ration out treatment during the pandemic and possibly violate patients’ civil rights in the process.
In a news release, the OCR stated that:
“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.”
Roger Severino, OCR director, added, “‘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.’”
1 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights, “Bulletin: Civil Rights, HIPAA, and the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19),” March 28, 2020, https://bit.ly/3axZ2Ej.
2 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “OCR Issues Bulletin on Civil Rights Laws and HIPAA Flexibilities That Apply During the COVID-19 Emergency,” news release, March 28, 2020, https://bit.ly/3dKOF23.