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Virus Treatment Based on Race, Ethnicity Threatens Federal Funds (1)

July 20, 2020, 2:42 PMUpdated: July 20, 2020, 3:36 PM

Doctors must ensure they don’t discriminate on the basis of race or ethnicity as they make treatment decisions during the Covid-19 pandemic, the HHS said Monday.

Nondiscrimination includes making sure that people from minority groups aren’t subject to “excessive wait times, rejected for hospital admissions, or denied access to intensive care units compared to similarly situated non-minority individuals,” the Department of Health and Human Services’ civil rights office said.

Any organizations who receive federal funding, including hospitals, state and local agencies, and other health-care providers, are required to comply with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, or national origin.

Health-care providers “should continue to take steps to serve the whole community, while providing culturally appropriate messaging,” the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) said in a bulletin. Health facilities need to adopt and reevaluate their policies to ensure they aren’t excluding or denying care based on race, color, or national origin.

The OCR is tasked with ensuring nondiscrimination among distribution of health care. It’s already taken action against Tennessee for its pandemic response after receiving complaints from disability advocates that some of the state’s resource allocation criteria discriminated against people with disabilities. Monday’s announcement shows the agency would do the same if health facilities are shown to treat racial minorities in a discriminatory manner.

“Not a penny should go to racial discrimination when it comes to the provision of health care,” OCR Director Roger Severino said in a call with reporters.

The OCR said that community Covid-19 testing sites receiving federal funds need to ensure that they are accessible to racial and ethnic minority populations. Severino said in the call that the agency wants to ensure there aren’t health-care deserts, especially in regard to testing.

The OCR expects to reach another resolution around disability rights soon, Severino said. The agency also is planning to announce two resolutions on religious accommodations on Tuesday, but Severino didn’t provide more information.

The agency has seen an uptick in complaints during the Covid-19 pandemic, Severino said. It’s working with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to get complaints.

“HHS is committed to helping populations hardest hit by COVID-19, including African-American, Native American, and Hispanic communities,” Severino said in a statement. “This guidance reminds providers that unlawful racial discrimination in healthcare will not be tolerated, especially during a pandemic.”

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams said in a statement that minority communities “have long experienced disparities related to the medical and social determinants of health—all of the things that contribute to your health and well-being.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic has magnified those disparities, but it has also given us the opportunity to acknowledge their existence and impact, and deepen our resolve to address them,” Adams said.

(Updated with additional reporting throughout)

To contact the reporter on this story: Shira Stein in Washington at sstein@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Fawn Johnson at fjohnson@bloomberglaw.com

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