Biden Administration Seeks More Funding to Enforce Civil Rights in Healthcare, Releases Additional Nondiscrimination Guidance

In his recent request for fiscal year 2022 discretionary funding, President Biden has asked Congress for a 24% increase in funding (to $47.9 million) for HHS Office for Civil Rights “to ensure protection of civil rights in healthcare.” In fact, this request is made underneath a heading that indicates that President Biden’s discretionary request “Increases Funding for Civil Rights Enforcement.” This request, which was also cited in the White House’s Fact Sheet outlining actions to address the Black Maternal Health Crisis, makes clear that the Biden-Harris Administration sees civil rights enforcement in healthcare as a priority.

It is also noteworthy that the Biden-Harris Administration has made two senior hires within HHS Office for Civil Rights: Laura Durso as chief of staff for HHS OCR and Stephanie Akpa as Senior Advisor for HHS OCR. Laura Durso was formerly with the Center for American Progress and the Chief Learning Officer for Whitman Walker, a health system with expertise in LGBTQ and HIV care. Stephanie Akpa was formerly chief counsel to U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren.

In addition, HHS OCR has been active in releasing additional guidance on federal nondiscrimination law. For example, on April 13, HHS OCR issued additional guidance on “Resources to Ensure and Expand Access to COVID-19 Vaccines for People with Disabilities and Older Adults.” This guidance outlines the legal standards applicable to prohibiting disability discrimination in healthcare and provides concrete examples of applications of those principles in the context of COVID-19 vaccine programs. Included with this guidance is also a fact sheet that sets out specific steps that those involved in vaccine efforts may wish to consider “to promote compliance with disability rights law and provide access to vaccination programs for people with disabilities.”

On April 19, HHS OCR then released guidance in the form of a video series entitled “Civil Rights Protections for Individuals in Recovery from an Opioid Use Disorder.” A focal point of these videos is to educate individuals in the child welfare system on the civil rights protections for these individuals—but the videos also “inform individuals in recovery about protections they may have under federal disability rights law.” This additional guidance is consistent with HHS OCR’s longstanding effort to educate stakeholders on the civil rights protections surrounding access to treatments for opioid disorders.