HHS issues bulletin on civil rights, HIPPA, and the Coronavirus Disease 2019
March 28, 2020
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office of Civil Rights (OCR) reminds covered entities of their obligations under laws that prohibit discrimination. “HHS is committed to leaving no one behind during an emergency, and this guidance is designed to help health care providers meet that goal” - OCR Director Roger Severino. Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act prohibit disability-based discrimination in HHS funded programs. Both of these laws remain in effect. The bulletin states that in this time of emergency in confronting COVID-19, the principles of fairness, equality, and compassion are paramount.
As such, 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.
To this end and as resources allow, government officials, health care providers, and covered entities should not overlook their obligations under federal civil rights laws to help ensure all segments of the community are served by:
- Providing effective communication with individuals who are deaf, hard of hearing, blind, and visually impaired through the use of qualified interpreters, picture boards, and other means;
- Providing meaningful access to programs and information to individuals with limited English proficiency through the use of qualified interpreters and through other means;
- Making emergency messaging available in plain language and in languages prevalent in the affected area(s) and in multiple formats, such as audio, large print, and captioning, and ensuring that websites providing emergency-related information are accessible;
- Addressing the needs of individuals with disabilities, including individuals with mobility impairments, individuals who use assistive devices or durable medical equipment, and individuals with immunosuppressed conditions including HIV/AIDS in emergency planning;
- Respecting requests for religious accommodations in treatment and access to clergy or faith practices as practicable.
Some actions or accommodations may not be required on the basis that they may fundamentally alter the nature of a program, pose an undue financial and administrative burden, or pose a direct threat.