Coronavirus & Disabilities: Ben Sasse Offers Legislation to Protect Disabled Americans

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U.S. Senator Ben Sasse (R-NB) speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, May 5, 2020. (Andrew Harnik/Pool via REUTERS)

Senator Ben Sasse (R., Neb.) is urging that Phase Four of federal legislation responding to the COVID-19 outbreak should include protections for Americans with disabilities, whom he says are likely to be disadvantaged by policies to ration limited health-care supplies.

“In a shocking number of states, Americans with disabilities can be sent to the back of the line for ventilators. That’s abhorrent,” Sasse said in a statement this morning. “Human dignity matters, and disabilities like Down syndrome don’t undermine the right to life. Congress can’t re-write state laws, but we can regulate the Strategic National Stockpile of ventilators. As Congress takes up Phase Four legislation, we have a moral obligation to prevent discrimination against people with disabilities.”

To that end, Sasse has drafted model legislation that would block states from receiving Strategic National Stockpile resources if they have policies in place to discriminate on the basis of disability when using those resources.

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His legislation is called the “Ending Qualifications that are Unjust for Access to Lifesaving Care Act,” or the EQUAL Care Act, and it is based on an investigation last month by the Center for Public Integrity, which determined that policies to ration limited health-care resources often disadvantage individuals with disabilities, specifically when it comes to distributing a limited number of ventilators.

A recent Pew survey found that Americans are split on the most appropriate way to allocate medical care to sick patients when there is a shortage of equipment or supplies. In particular, respondents disagreed over which patients should be given access to a ventilator when there is a shortage. Fifty percent of respondents said ventilators should go to “patients who are most in need at the moment,” while 45 percent said they should be given to “patients who doctors think are most likely to recover with treatment.” More likely than not, policies implemented along the latter guideline would end up privileging those who are young and healthy, keeping ventilators from the elderly, those with preexisting conditions, and the disabled.


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