Revised Health Care Guidelines Protect Texans With Disabilities From Discrimination, If Rationing Occurs

The guidelines say that people with disabilities should not automatically be sent to the back of the line for care if there aren’t enough resources to go around.

By Jill Ament & Shelly BrisbinJanuary 18, 2021 1:12 pm, ,

Texas civil rights groups have been working throughout the coronavirus pandemic to make sure Texans with disabilities are still able to safely and lawfully get the care they need, despite strains on medical resources. The organization Disability Rights Texas recently announced new, federally approved guidelines, laying out standards of care for people with disabilities during a crisis – something Texas hasn’t had in place before.

Lisa Snead is an attorney for Disability Rights Texas. She told Texas Standard that the guidelines, which address how health providers would deal with situations in which health care must be rationed, now include specific provisions that address people with disabilities.

Texas has no statewide medical crisis guidelines, though different regions of the state have their own. Under the federally approved policies that are now in effect in the Dallas and San Antonio metro areas, the needs of people with disabilities, along with older adults, are taken into consideration. Snead says the guidelines no longer discriminate against those populations.

“The guidelines that were in place before had the effect of discriminating against people with disabilities,” she said. “That wasn’t the intent, but that was, in effect, what would have happened had they gone into effect.”

Without the guidelines, people with disabilities would have been excluded from certain kinds of care, should the need arise for rationing. Diagnostic tools, too, that assess which patients have the best chance of survival “had the effect of discriminating against people with disabilities,” Snead said.

Snead said she isn’t aware of cases in which health-care rationing has occurred so far during the pandemic.

“I believe very early in the pandemic, Starr County, down in the Valley, got close,” she said. “But we are not actually aware that it actually did wind up rationing care.”

Health care experts in the areas where the new guidelines have gone into effect have told Snead that rationing is possible in those areas, as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise.

Snead hopes that getting the guidelines approved in two Texas regions will create momentum for getting them approved elsewhere, too.

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