NCD sends letter to National Governors Association urging protections regarding COVID-19

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April 9, 2019

WASHINGTON--The National Council on Disability (NCD) has sent a letter to leaders of the National Governors Association (NGA) focused on access to medical care for people with disabilities who contract COVID-19.

The April 9 letter from NCD Chairman Neil Romano, addressed to NGA Chair Maryland Governor Larry Hogan and Vice Chair New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, urged them to remind governors that their state crisis response protocols must adhere to non-discrimination laws.

As states develop and revise crisis care protocols in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, NCD has been calling for increased guidance, oversight and enforcement of civil rights protections, especially in cases where rationing of medical care can target people with disabilities and chronic illness who may be denied necessary healthcare if rationing becomes necessary.

"People with disabilities and chronic health conditions are particularly vulnerable during this crisis, wrote Chairman Romano. "They are vulnerable to catching the virus; likely to experience the most severe symptoms; and at the same time, they are most likely to be subjected to healthcare discrimination through limiting and denying necessary care."

Last fall, NCD released a series of five reports on bioethics and disability. Some of the areas of concern were examined, such as discrimination based on disability bias, the concept of medical futility and quality-adjusted life years. The reports are available at NCD.gov.  

"Even in the absence of a crisis, disability bias continues to impact medical decision making, leading to a deadly form of discrimination," wrote the Chairman.  

The Chairman mentioned complaints and lawsuits, along with the recent work NCD has been doing to inform government agencies of potential discrimination in critical medical decisionmaking due to a person's disability, such as rationing of ventillators. That work resulted in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services releasing a bulletin on the civil rights responsibilities of healthcare providers, detailing responsibilities for non-discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act and other federal laws.

He requested that NGA distribute this bulletin to every governor and draw attention to it.

"Every life is valuable," wrote Chairman Romano. "In this unprecedented crisis, it is crucial that each state respond to COVID-19, not only by supporting its medical professionals' abilities to treat, but by committing to protect the civil rights of its residents with disabilities."

Read the letter on our website at NCD.gov.