Policy Round-up: New COVID Guidance and Resources; Discrimination Against Disabled Parents; FCC Comment Opportunity

April 12, 2022
Vicki Gottlich, Director, Center for Policy and Evaluation

In this Policy Round-Up, you’ll find:

Resources for the End of the Public Health Emergency: New Unwinding Resources from ACL and CMS

Quick Summary: Last week, ACL released a fact sheet describing how the looming expiration of the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency (PHE) and the “unwinding” of certain requirements and flexibilities will bring potentially confusing and disruptive changes for current Medicaid enrollees. States will need to initiate eligibility renewals for virtually everyone currently enrolled in Medicaid within 12 months of the end of the PHE. With the right planning, states can prevent avoidable gaps in insurance coverage. To assist with this process, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) continues to release information for states to prepare for the work ahead of them. The aging and disability network can serve as a valuable partner to states as they educate and assist Medicaid beneficiaries to ensure there are no gaps in their health coverage. Two new resources from CMS are:

  • A summary of Best & Promising State Practices related to unwinding planning. This includes examples from various states which will inform future CMS guidance and can serve as models to other states in their planning. Topics include renewal processes and planning, workforce capacity, stakeholder coordination, outreach and communication, and operational planning and preparation. Collaboration with aging and disability network partners was cited as one promising outreach and partnership practice.
  • Information on Strategic approaches to fair hearings (Medicaid appeals). If a Medicaid beneficiary believes they were improperly cut off from or denied Medicaid, they have the right to appeal (known as “requesting a fair hearing”). The CMS resource provides steps states can take to assess their fair hearing process and capacity in preparation for the increased volume of requests, and outlines strategies states can use to address the anticipated fair hearing volume.

New long COVID resources from the White House and Department of Labor

Quick Summary: The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to pursuing a whole-of-government approach to supporting people with Long COVID and has launched a new interagency initiative to addressing Long COVID.

  • Long COVID is a constellation of symptoms including, among others, fatigue, pain and brain fog that range from mild to debilitating; symptoms of long COVID can be severe even if the initial infection was mild and long COVID symptoms can last weeks or months and is a potential cause of disability.
  • Some people with long COVID are entering the disability community for the first time and may be unaware of their rights and the services and supports available to them. The disability network can serve as a key source of information for those recovering from long COVID.
    • A new Presidential Memorandum directs the Secretary of Health and Human Services to coordinate an interagency research and action plan for addressing long COVID. A companion fact sheet highlights strategies to deliver high quality care, improve access to services and supports, and advance research on long COVID. The research action plan must specifically include plans to advance understanding of the health and socioeconomic burdens on individuals affected by long COVID, including among different racial and ethnic groups, pregnant people, and those with underlying disabilities.
    • A new Department of Labor blog offers information and resources for employees with long COVID-19. If long COVID is affecting an individual’s ability to work, they may be entitled to workplace accommodations to help them do their job even if they don’t consider themselves to have a disability. The Department of Labor blog highlights information and resources from Job Accommodation Network (JAN), which provides free, confidential guidance on workplace accommodations under the ADA. The blog includes easy-to-understand information on how to request an accommodation, the types of accommodations that someone can request and employers’ responsibilities under the ADA when an employee requests an accommodation. 

New COVID.gov website

The CDC launched the new COVID.gov as a one-stop-shop for information on COVID-19 testing, treatment, mask supplies, and vaccines. Searching by county people can find their COVID-19 Community Level with recommendations for what precautions to take based on their location. The site also directs visitors to government resources for finding free masks (N95 respirators), locating vaccine and booster sites, and test-to-treat locations that provide testing and medication. The site also includes a phone number 1-800-232-0233 (TTY 1-888-720-7489).

CDC updates masking Guidance to allow patients to bring N95 respirators to hospitals

Quick Summary: The CDC has updated its guidance allowing patients to wear highly protective N-95 respirators they bring with them into hospitals. N-95 respirators are considered the gold standard for transmission protection from the virus that causes COVID-19 and are preferred by many immunocompromised people and others at high risk of serious illness. The change came after reports that facilities were requiring patients to swap N-95 respirators they brought with them for less protective surgical masks.

The new guidance suggests hospitals offer well-fitting face masks to visitors but that they “should allow the use of a clean mask or respirator with higher level protection by people who chose that option based on their individual preference.” The guidance states masks that are soiled or damaged should be changed. However, there are still reports of confusion and facilities requesting patients remove their N95s. Patients can file complaints with hospital accreditation and state survey agencies if facilities don’t adhere to CDC guidance. 

Rhode Island enters into settlement agreement over complaints of discrimination against parents with disabilities

Quick Summary: The Rhode Island Department of Children and Families has agreed to a settlement after complaints of discrimination by parents with disabilities, including complaints that the state failed to provide communications accommodations.

The voluntary settlement agreement with the HHS Office for Civil Rights and the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Rhode Island requires the state to take a comprehensive approach to addressing the complaints of parents who are deaf or hearing impaired, parents with I/DD, and other parents with disabilities. This settlement agreement is a strong reminder to all states of their responsibilities under federal disability laws, especially in actions that can impact family unity.

More information:

  • The Rhode Island parents alleged that the state failed to provide communications accommodations such as qualified ASL interpreters for deaf parents, including in situations involving the removal of children from their homes. Parents also alleged that the state based conclusions about their parental capacity on assumptions about their disabilities, all actions which are illegal under federal disability rights laws.
  • As a part of the settlement, the state must create and implement a policy on communicating effectively with individuals who have communication disabilities, provide training to all personnel on federal civil rights laws and accommodations for individuals with disabilities, designate an Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator, and report quarterly for three years.
  • ACL disability network grantees are an important source of information for families on their rights and protections under federal disability rights laws. ACL grantees the ADA National Network and the Protection and Advocacy Systems are excellent resources for information and assistance.

Request for Comment: Federal Communications Commission Seeks Comment on Preventing and Eliminating Digital Discrimination (Due May 16)

Quick summary: Access to broadband internet is critical for older adults and people with disabilities who rely on it for telehealth medical visits, communications assistance to participate in their communities and stay in touch with family and friends. Section 60506 of the Infrastructure and Jobs Act directs the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the agency responsible for regulating the internet broadband industry, to issue rules implementing the law to “facilitate equal access to broadband” and prevent “digital discrimination of access [to broadband] based on income level, race, ethnicity, color, religion, or national origin.” 

More information:

  • The FCC is released a Notice of Inquiry on March 17th. In it, the agency is specifically requesting feedback on several issues as it develops its proposed rule including:
    • How to define discrimination in the context of the rule and access to broadband. The rule also seeks input on a variety of other terms and concepts including “equal access.”
    • Whether to adopt rules that broadly prohibit digital discrimination, or simply encourage and incentive entities to take certain steps to prevent digital discrimination.
    • How to best identify cases of digital discrimination and potential data sources it could rely upon.
    • Comments are due May 16th. People with disabilities who need assistance to file comments may request assistance by email to FCC504@fcc.gov.

Last modified on 04/12/2022

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