HHS Warns States Not To Put People With Disabilities At The Back Of The Line For Care

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With coronavirus cases continuing to climb and hospitals facing the prospect of having to decide how to allocate limited staff and resources, the Department of Health and Human Services is reminding states and health care providers that civil rights laws still apply in a pandemic.

States are preparing for a situation when there’s not enough care to go around by issuing “crisis of care” standards.

But disability groups are worried that those standards will allow rationing decisions that exclude the elderly or people with disabilities.

On Saturday, the HHS Office for Civil Rights put out guidance saying states, hospitals and doctors cannot put people with disabilities or older people at the back of the line for care.

“We’re concerned that crisis standards of care may start relying on value judgments as to the relative worth of one human being versus another, based on the presence or absence of disability,” said Roger Severino, the director of the Office for Civil Rights. “We’re concerned that stereotypes about what life is like living with a disability can be improperly used to exclude people from needed care.”

Severino said his office has opened or is about to open investigations of complaints in multiple states. He did not say which states could be the focus of an investigation, but in the last several days, disability groups in four states — Alabama, Kansas, Tennessee, and Washington — have filed complaints.

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