Individuals with disabilities often have trouble accessing health care. Now a group of federal lawmakers is calling for an investigation into why.

A half-dozen senators are asking the Government Accountability Office to study the barriers facing Americans with disabilities when they seek access to medical treatment, services, equipment and more.

The request comes in a letter sent late last month to the head of GAO that was signed by U.S. Sens. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., Patty Murray, D-Wash., Bob Casey, D-Pa., Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio.

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“We write to request that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) conduct a study on barriers people with disabilities experience in accessing healthcare — including reproductive healthcare — in the United States,” the senators wrote. “Even though discrimination based on disability is prohibited by law, people with disabilities continue to face issues with accessibility when it comes to getting the healthcare they need, when they need it. The lack of accessible healthcare contributes to and exacerbates health disparities experienced by people with disabilities.”

In particular, the senators note that people with disabilities often encounter inaccessible exam tables, scales and other medical equipment. What’s more, they have trouble accessing interpreters or they are not offered the opportunity to make decisions using supported decision-making, among other barriers.

The situation has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic as people with disabilities have been denied care when overwhelmed health care systems have turned to crisis standards of care, the letter indicates.

These issues persist despite “strong protections” of the rights of people with disabilities to access equal care through provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Affordable Care Act, according to the lawmakers.

The senators are asking GAO to look into what’s known about barriers to health care for people with disabilities, what data the government collects on this issue and what oversight efforts are currently in place. The lawmakers also want to know how much training health care providers are receiving about serving people with disabilities, how many individuals with disabilities work in health care and how financial barriers experienced by people with disabilities impact their access to health care.

In addition, GAO is being asked to recommend what more the federal government can do to address these issues.

“For the millions of Americans with disabilities who still do not have equitable access to healthcare, despite the protections afforded to them by the ADA, the ACA and Section 504, this is only one step towards achieving equity,” reads the letter to GAO.

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