New regulations will prohibit health care providers from making treatment decisions based on biases about disabilities and require that accessible exam tables and other medical equipment be more available.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said this week that it will finalize a rule updating and clarifying how Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act is implemented.

The regulation specifies that people with disabilities should not be denied medical treatments due to biases or stereotypes. Similarly, it states that ideas about the value of a person’s life or whether they might burden others due to their disabilities have no place in determinations about organ transplants, life-sustaining care, crisis standards of care or otherwise.

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In addition, the rule adopts the U.S. Access Board’s standards for accessible medical diagnostic equipment and requires that many medical providers have at least one accessible exam table and weight scale within two years.

The rule also stipulates what providers need to do to ensure that their websites and mobile applications are accessible to people with disabilities. And, it prohibits the discriminatory use of value assessment methods.

“Today’s rule is long overdue,” said Melanie Fontes Rainer, director of the HHS Office for Civil Rights. “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. No diagnosis should be missed because of an inaccessible mammogram, no patient should be left with questions about test results due to inaccessible websites and no life should be valued less due to disability.”

The rule applies to all programs and activities that receive funding from HHS, including child welfare agencies. It requires that services be provided in the most integrated setting possible.

Federal officials indicated that the update to Section 504 will make it more consistent with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Even though Section 504 has long barred disability discrimination, HHS has acknowledged that “significant discrimination” has persisted in both the health care and child welfare systems. As a result, disability advocates have pressed for years to see the regulations updated, citing concerns ranging from the proliferation of inaccessible medical equipment to issues accessing organ transplants and health care rationing in crisis situations.

Darcy Milburn, director of Social Security and health care policy at The Arc of the United States, called the new rule “a big step forward in removing barriers in our health care system.”

“We’ve heard heartbreaking stories of discrimination in health care for too long,” she said. “This announcement happened because of decades of hard work by the disability community. We spoke up, we testified and we demanded change. And today, leaders in Washington listened.”

The new rule will take effect 60 days after it is published in the Federal Register.

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