Two Federal Civil Rights Policy Changes Which Will Affect Patients With Disabilities During COVID-19 Pandemic and Beyond

US Capitol

WASHINGTON, D.C. – June 9th, in response to the first federal complaint challenging discriminatory hospital “no-visitor” policies, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services announced a resolution making clear that federal law requires hospitals and the state agencies overseeing them to modify policies to ensure patients with disabilities can safely access the in-person supports needed to benefit from medical care during the COVID-19 pandemic. Read The Arc’s full press release here.

Highlights from the hospital policy announced by OCR and Connecticut include that it:

  • Requires all hospitals and other health care facilities to allow designated persons (family members, staff, or others) to support any disabled patient that may need such support;
  • Requires hospitals to provide available personal protective equipment (PPE) to support persons to keep them safe;
  • Includes procedures for screening support persons for COVID-19 symptoms and for supporters to safely take breaks and leave and re-enter the hospital; and
  • Encourages hospitals to mitigate the risk associated with support persons supporting COVID-19-positive patients.


WASHINGTON, D.C. – June 12th, The same office, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), finalized their ACA Section 1557 Rule which removes discrimination protections from LGBTQ people seeking health care and health insurance. Specifically, the rule redefines “sex discrimination” as only applying when someone is being discriminated against on the basis of their assigned sex at birth.

Under the new rule LGBTQ people, especially transgender people, can be denied medical care on the basis of their gender with no federal legal protection. This rule goes beyond the ability for providers to refuse gender transition related care. Doctors can refuse to treat transgender patients altogether.

How are these rules related?

The resolution clarifying that hospitals must allow in-person support for people with disabilities will undoubtedly save lives during the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet there are many in the disability community who are also transgender people. Many of whom have complex medical needs which are now at risk of going unmet. While the fact sheet issued by HHS’s OCR on ACA Section 1557 rule specifies that it protects individuals with disabilities, the rule itself removes transgender people with disabilities from this protection.


Unlike many states California has regulations in place at the state level which protect transgender people’s access to health care. Medi-Cal also has specific protections in place for transgender patients. Click here to view an interactive map which shows which states do and do not have these protections.


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