Skip to content
picture of the US capitol building

HHS Enacts New Rule to Enhance Disability Rights in Healthcare

New Protections Under Section 504 to Combat Discrimination Against People with Disabilities

picture of the US capitol building

May 8, 2024  – In a move to advance the rights of individuals with disabilities, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), through its Office for Civil Rights (OCR), has finalized a rule aimed at eliminating discrimination based on disability. This rule, Discrimination on the Basis of Disability in Health and Human Service Programs or Activities, is a step forward in enforcing Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. 

The newly adopted rule emerges after decades of advocacy by the disability community and is designed to boost civil rights protections. Specific provisions include enforceable standards for accessible medical diagnostic equipment, such as examination tables and mammography machines, and stringent requirements ensuring web content and mobile applications are accessible.

HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra highlighted the rule’s breadth, stating, “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. 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.”

The rule addresses various discriminatory practices within medical and social services, explicitly prohibiting medical treatment decisions based on biases or stereotypes about disabilities. It ensures that disability does not serve as a basis for denying or limiting access to necessary services and emphasizes the importance of delivering services in the most integrated settings possible.

Melanie Fontes Rainer, Director of HHS OCR, expressed the urgency of the rule, noting the overwhelming support received during the public comment period. “Today’s rule is long 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.”

According to the HHS press release, the rule specifically:

  • Ensures that medical treatment decisions are not based on negative biases or stereotypes about individuals with disabilities, judgments that an individual with a disability will be a burden on others, or dehumanizing beliefs that the life of an individual with a disability has less value than the life of a person without a disability.
  • Prohibits the use of any measure, assessment, or tool that discounts the value of a life extension on the basis of disability to deny, limit, or otherwise condition access to an aid, benefit or service.
  • Defines what accessibility means for websites and mobile applications and sets forth a specific technical standard to ensure that health care and human service activities delivered through these platforms are readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities.
  • Adopts the U.S. Access Board’s standards for accessible medical diagnostic equipment, like exam tables and mammography machines.
  • Details requirements to ensure nondiscrimination in the services provided by HHS-funded child welfare agencies, including, but not limited to, reasonable efforts to prevent foster care placement, parent-child visitation, reunification services, child placement, parenting skills programs, and in- and out-of-home services.
  • Clarifies obligations to provide services in the most integrated setting, like receiving services in one’s own home, appropriate to the needs of individuals with disabilities.

This rule takes effect 60 days after publication. As HHS moves forward with implementing this rule, it continues to invite feedback and engage with communities to ensure protection and support for individuals with disabilities. For those experiencing or witnessing discrimination, HHS encourages filing a complaint through the OCR complaint portal to help uphold the enforcement of these critical protections. 

To view the final rule in its entirety, click here

To view a fact sheet on the proposed rule, click here

The VBP Blog is a comprehensive resource for all things related to value-based payments. Up-to-date news, informative webinars, and relevant blogs in the VBP sphere to help your organization find success. 

More Trending Topics: