A critical need during coronavirus pandemic…Members of House & Senate Urge HHS, AG to Protect Disability Community
Twenty-seven members of the House of Representatives and five Senators today call on Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Alex Azar and U.S. Attorney General William Barr to expeditiously issue guidance to states to protect Americans with disabilities from discrimination during the coronavirus outbreak.
A letter, written by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) and led in the House by Smith and Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI), cites stories by major media outlets reporting insufficient health care resources in the United States could lead states to prioritize care away from individuals with disabilities. The Members of Congress urged HHS to immediately notify states that, as they review and issue their "crisis standards of care," they cannot authorize or promote any form of disability discrimination that violates the Americans with Disabilities Act. Sens. Jim Lankford (R-OK) and Kirsten (D-NY) also signed on along with others from the Senate. Click here for a copy of the letter.
“Our nation cannot leave behind Americans with disabilities or pre-existing conditions during this crisis,” said Rep. Smith, who led the effort of the House side. “The Department of Health and Human Services should immediately clarify that states may not respond to the coronavirus emergency by denying individuals life-sustaining treatments solely on the basis of disability. As a nation, we have to stick together, and this includes the disability community and their families.”
“The coronavirus pandemic has presented unique challenges for Americans with disabilities,” said Rep. Langevin. “Patients must never be denied care on the basis of a disability, and I’m proud to join my colleagues in urging HHS to take immediate action to help prevent disability discrimination during this public health emergency.”
“We are at unique time in our nation’s history as we work together to combat the global COVID-19 pandemic,” said Senator Lankford. “We can work quickly to address the growing crisis, but we cannot forget our most basic laws and protections that safeguard some of the most vulnerable members of our society like older Americans and Americans with disabilities. Especially during times of crisis, we cannot abandon our moral duty to protect vulnerable communities and stand for the value of life. I’m grateful to work with my colleagues to ensure this commitment to every life is upheld as we work to respond rapidly and effectively to this pandemic.”
“In times of crisis our communities must band together to help and protect each other,” said Senator Gillibrand. “The United States has a responsibility to uphold our landmark civil rights laws, and we must honor our commitment to anti-discrimination laws for people with disabilities, even as we combat the coronavirus outbreak. I’m proud to lead this bipartisan coalition fighting to protect against disability discrimination during this pandemic.”
As stated in the letter, denying life-sustaining care solely based on disability violates federal law in the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act, including “incorporating denials of care, lower prioritization of care, or denial of or limitation of healthcare resources on the basis of one's disability, severity of disability, need for resource-intensive services and supports, or the perception of a lower quality of life on the basis of disability.”
The Office for Civil Rights within HHS is responsible for enforcing nondiscrimination laws. Complaints may be filed online here.
Langevin- Victor Morente (401) 486-6007
Gillibrand- Evan Lukaske (202) 224-3873
Lankford- Aly Beley (202) 224-5754