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Independent Living News & Policy from the National Council on Independent Living

Medical Rationing and COVID-19: Information and Resources

As cases of COVID-19 are increasing across the country, so, too, is the need for equipment and treatment. In response to both the fear and reality of needs exceeding resources, we are hearing with increasing frequency about medical professionals, hospitals, and states developing plans for medical rationing. This refers to any type of guidelines, rules, or protocols that define or determine who does and does not get to have access to treatment for COVID-19. Much of this guidance has been discriminatory, recommending denying some or all life-saving care to certain groups of people – often older people and people with disabilities. 

This is not only horrendous; it is also illegal. Nearly all healthcare providers in the country are subject to nondiscrimination mandates of the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504), the Affordable Care Act (Section 1557), and the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities.

In recent weeks, several complaints have been filed by disability rights organizations with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Civil Rights (HHS OCR) regarding states’ medical rationing plans. In response to the discriminatory actions of several states – and in large part because of the advocacy by the disability community – on March 28, the HHS OCR released a bulletin (PDF) to ensure that during this emergency, covered entities follow civil rights law.

The bulletin clearly explains that HHS-funded health programs and activities cannot discriminate against people with disabilities. Specifically, it says 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. Decisions by covered entities concerning whether an individual is a candidate for treatment should be based on an individualized assessment of the patient based on the best available objective medical evidence”.

This bulletin is important and timely. The lives of disabled people are equally valuable to the lives of nondisabled people. The answer to limited resources is to figure out how to make sufficient resources available; not to pit groups of people against each other.

Our rights are still rights in times of crisis. Plans to deny care to people based on disability are discriminatory and illegal. Our community needs to remain vigilant and continue advocating and filing complaints when discriminatory plans are being set in motion. This bulletin provides an important tool for ongoing advocacy.

Some additional resources and information about medical rationing can be found at the links below:

For more updates and information, resources, and past alerts about COVID-19, visit www.ncil.org/covid-19.

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