NCD RFI letter regarding Section 504 of Rehabilitation Act

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February 22, 2021

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
Office of the Secretary
200 Independence Avenue, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20201

Re: RFI regarding Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, “Discrimination on the Basis of Disability in Critical Health and Human Services Programs or Activities”

Dear Acting Secretary Norris Cochran:

I write to you on behalf of the National Council on Disability (NCD) to support your Department’s Request for Information (RFI) regarding Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, “Discrimination on the Basis of Disability in Critical Health and Human Services Programs or Activities” (RIN: 0945-AA15) and strongly recommend further regulatory action. NCD is an independent federal agency charged with providing advice and recommendations regarding disability policy to the President, Congress, and other federal agencies.

Despite the existing federal nondiscrimination mandates in the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, NCD can attest that discriminatory biases and practices aimed at persons with disabilities still permeate, systemically, our nation’s health care system. Based on our body of research, we affirm the RFI’s findings, which outline pervasive and well-documented discrimination against people with disabilities pertaining to organ transplant distribution, quality of life assessments, suicide prevention programs and services, crisis standards of care, child welfare and social services, and access to medical equipment. HHS OCR regulatory action on the issues in this RFI present an opportunity to address these ongoing injustices. 

NCD has extensively briefed HHS’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) on our research in these areas, which greatly informed the development of the RFI. We consider continued regulatory action both crucial and timely. In particular, we would note that the current public health emergency relating to the coronavirus pandemic has placed a greater focus on how crisis standards of care may discriminate against individuals with disabilities. We applaud OCR’s enforcement and technical assistance activities taken in this regard and encourage you to promulgate more detailed long-term standards at the earliest possible opportunity.

As a result of our statutory mission, NCD serves as a voice for the diverse community of people with disabilities within the Federal Government. Accordingly, in addition to our own research and advice in this area, we draw your attention again to a letter addressed to you, dated February 11, 2021, from a broad and diverse coalition of 30 disability and racial justice advocacy groups in support of OCR’s RFI. A strong evidence base, shared principles, and strong coalitions make for effective policy, and it is clear that there is such coalescence surrounding this RFI.

We believe strengthening Section 504 would align with both HHS’s mission, as well as the focus of NCD’s bipartisan membership during my tenure as Chairman: to provide equality of access and care for all individuals with disabilities.

NCD strongly supports this RFI and continued regulatory action in the form of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and, ultimately, final rulemaking.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter. If you have any questions regarding the above or if we can be of assistance to your Department if it moves forward with the RFI, please let us know.

Most Respectfully,

Andrés J. Gallegos
Chairman