Gillibrand worried that civil rights of those with disabilities eroded during Coronavirus outbreak

FILE - In this Oct. 21, 2010 file photo, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., debates in Troy, N.Y. Gillibrand was derided as a vulnerable flip-flopper when she was appointed to the Senate in 2009. Today, she is enjoying the afterglow of a winning her first six-year term with 72 percent of the vote, and her influence is poised to grow. (AP Photo/Mike Groll, File)

As Nation Responds to Coronavirus Outbreak, Bipartisan Coalition Urges HHS to Ensure States Adhere to Existing Disability Anti-Discrimination Laws

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, alongside U.S. Senator James Lankford, led a bipartisan, bicameral call on the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) to protect against disability discrimination in state and health provider responses to COVID-19. In a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar and Attorney General William Barr, the bipartisan coalition called for HHS to notify states of their obligations to adhere to anti-discrimination laws — including the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act — as they review and develop their “crisis standards of care.”

As the public health crisis due to the coronavirus outbreak grows and strains America’s health care system, life-sustaining treatments must not be denied to people with disabilities.

“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.”

Recent reports from the National Council on Disability — an independent federal agency specializing in policy matters affecting the lives of people with disabilities — demonstrate prolific examples of disability bias and discrimination within medical decision-making, even in the absence of a crisis. As Italy experiences the effects of widespread coronavirus infection ahead of the United States, people with disabilities have already shouldered a large portion of the health care rationing response. Media reports have suggested that states around the United States are considering similar decision-making formulas.

Recent reports from the National Council on Disability — an independent federal agency specializing in policy matters affecting the lives of people with disabilities — demonstrate prolific examples of disability bias and discrimination within medical decision-making, even in the absence of a crisis. As Italy experiences the effects of widespread coronavirus infection ahead of the United States, people with disabilities have already shouldered a large portion of the health care rationing response. Media reports have suggested that states around the United States are considering similar decision-making formulas.

The push for disability protections in response to COVID-19 is joined by Senators Margaret Wood Hassan (D-NH), Steve Daines (R-MT), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT); and led in the U.S. House of Representatives by Reps. Chris Smith (R-NJ-04) and Jim Langevin (D-RI-02). The letter is endorsed by nearly 30 leading disability and patient rights organizations. The request in this letter was recommended by the National Council on Disability (NCD). 

Full text of the letter can be found here and below. 

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