New Rule Reinforces Section 504 Protections

Blog: New Rule Reinforces Section 504 Protections

In previous blogs, we’ve talked about how doctors and medical practitioners aren’t always able or willing to treat people with disabilities—mainly because they don’t know how to accommodate them.

(If you haven’t read anything about this phenomenon, we recommend reading an Oct. 2022 article in The New York Times headlined “These Doctors Admit They Don’t Want Patients with Disabilities.” It reveals shocking details about the ways in which doctors avoid treating patients with disabilities.)

The times they might be changing, though.

Recently, the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) of the United States Health and Human Services (HHS) took an important step toward addressing inequities and discrimination in health care. On May 1, the agency finalized a new rule, known as the “Discrimination on the Basis of Disability in Health and Human Service Programs or Activities” which fortifies Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

The new rule, which applies to any program or activity that is funded by HHS, prevents medical doctors and other healthcare or social servicer practitioners from discriminating against patients in terms of their medical treatment, and demands that medical facilities have accessible equipment, websites and apps.

“This rule strengthens the protections afforded by Section 504, a landmark civil rights law, and furthers the Department’s commitment to ensuring equal access to this nation’s health care system and its social service programs for people with disabilities and their families,” said Secretary Xavier Becerra in a press release. “It is comprehensive in scope, advancing justice for people with disabilities and helping to ensure they are not discriminated against under any program or activity receiving funding from HHS just because they have a disability.”

Melanie Fontes Rainer, director of the HHS Office for Civil Rights called the rule “way overdue.”

“My office heard from thousands in overwhelming support of this rule and the need to update this rule now for people with disabilities. By removing barriers to health care and social services, this rule advances justice for people with disabilities who have for too long been subject to discrimination. No diagnosis should be missed because of an inaccessible mammogram, no patient should be left with questions about test results due to inaccessible websites, and no life should be valued less due to disability.”