Sen. Warren Urges Federal Government To Protect People with Disabilities and Older Adults from COVID-19 Treatment Discrimination

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The following is a media release from Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s office. She was elected by voters in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to serve the state in Washington DC in the US Senate. She is a Democrat.


WASHINGTON DC _ United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) and Senate Aging Committees, and Bob Casey (D-Pa.), a member of the HELP Committee and Ranking Member of the Aging Committee, along with Senators Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), and Tim Kaine (D-Va.), sent a letter to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma, and HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) Director Roger Severino urging their agencies to use their legal authorities to ensure the equitable distribution of health care during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic and to protect those with the greatest need, including people with disabilities and older adults.

The senators urged HHS OCR to enforce Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Rehabilitation Act to ensure that health care providers do not discriminate based on age or disability status in decisions about the provision of lifesaving treatment. The senators expressed concern that some medical ethicists in the United States have argued for limiting treatment to those who are most likely to survive. 

“We urge you to use your legal authority to ensure the United States health care system and our health care professionals abstain from using disability and aging characteristics to limit access to necessary medical treatment,” the lawmakers wrote. “Denying treatment for COVID-19 related illnesses based on disability or age alone is completely unacceptable, even in the face of shortages.”

To ensure people with disabilities and older adults do not face discrimination for COVID-19 treatment, the senators are calling on HHS to prioritize the enforcement of the following principles:

  • Prohibit perceptions of quality of life of people with disabilities and older adults from being used to deny or give lower relative priority for care
  • Prohibit denial or lower relative priority for care based on relative non-negligible survival probabilities 
  • Prohibit denial or lower relative priority for care based on resource intensity 
  • Require individualized, evidence-based assessment

“While it is appropriate for providers to delay non-essential care, people with disabilities and older adults should not face discrimination in the allocation of life-sustaining treatment from which they are able to clinically benefit,” concluded the lawmakers.


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