OCR Issues Bulletin on Civil Rights Laws, HIPAA, and COVID-19

On March 28, 2020, the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued a bulletin to remind health care providers of their obligations under laws and regulations that prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, disability, age, sex, and exercise of conscience and religion.

The OCR's guidance emphasizes that the civil rights laws that OCR enforces remain in effect in this time of emergency and urges health care providers to take reasonable steps to minimize stigmatization in response to the emergency. Decisions by health care providers concerning whether an individual is a candidate for treatment should be based on an individualized assessment of the patient based on the best available objective medical evidence.

OCR recommends that providers consider making use of multiple outlets and resources for messaging to reach individuals with disabilities, individuals with limited English proficiency, and members of diverse faith communities. Health care providers are also urged to stock their facilities with items that will help people to maintain independence, such as hearing aid batteries, canes, and walkers.

OCR also utilized the bulletin to remind health care providers of its previously issued guidance on HIPAA flexibilities in response to the COVID-19 emergency. For further information on OCR's Notice of Enforcement Discretion allowing providers to serve patients where they are through commonly used apps, please see our earlier blog post or contact CCB Law.