Earlier this year, a bipartisan group of U.S. legislators navigated around the usual Capitol Hill gridlock to make important progress for amputees. Last week another group of U.S. senators made similar strides on behalf of a broader constituency: people with disabilities.
Led by Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), one of just a few amputees in Congress and the only one in the Senate, the group of lawmakers persuaded the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to initiate a comprehensive study into the barriers that keep Americans with disabilities from accessing healthcare treatment, services, and equipment. “[P]eople with disabilities continue to face issues with accessibility when it comes to getting the healthcare they need, when they need it,” the senators wrote in their letter to the GAO. “The lack of accessible healthcare contributes to and exacerbates health disparities experienced by people with disabilities.”
By identifying specific gaps in the healthcare system, the study will enable lawmakers to craft targeted policy solutions that make it easier for amputees and other people with disabilities to get necessary healthcare. The project’s broad areas of inquiry include:
* Physical barriers at federally funded healthcare facilities that impede access for people with disabilities
* Representation (or lack thereof) of people with disabilities in the healthcare workforce
* Training programs that equip healthcare professionals to offer effective treatment for people with disabilities
* Financial obstacles that restrict people with disabilities from obtaining all the healthcare they need
* Existing databases that document healthcare usage patterns among people with disabilities
“The first thing is to actually get the data,” Duckworth told Amplitude last week. “And we don’t have the data. There’s no comprehensive source across all of the federal government to show us why the 61 million people in the disability community are not receiving equitable care. Once we see what that data is, then we’ll be able to formulate remedies.”
In a perfect world, those remedies would be codified in a legislative act. But Duckworth is confident the GAO study will produce results even in the imperfect world we actually inhabit—i.e., the world where political gamesmanship routinely foils popular, affordable, problem-solving legislation.
“There are things that could be done administratively,” she says. “Some of them may involve rulemaking within the federal government. We may find that some of the equity issues involve physical barriers that can be fixed through a budgetary process. Maybe we need to have more training for clinicians in providing care to persons with disabilities.”
“Once we know where the biggest impediments to access are, there will be lots of opportunities,” Duckworth adds. “We just don’t quite know what they are right now. And that’s part of the problem.”