“Health Law as Disability Rights Law”

A recent paper by Jessica Roberts of the University of Houston Law Center argues that the creation of the Affordable Care Act – and the instrumental role played by disability rights groups in its passage – may have signaled a new turn in disability rights activism.

Health Care Law
Affordable Care Act

“Quite intuitively, the solution to the inequities experienced by individuals with disabilities in health care appears to rest—not in civil rights law—but in health law,” Roberts states. “Both scholars and activists alike have proposed that the future of disability rights lies in protections traditionally associated with health legislation.

“The ACA makes that proposal a reality. The statute includes multiple provisions that both explicitly and implicitly benefit people with disabilities, including its expansion of Medicaid and public health-insurance coverage for on-going care, its elimination of preexisting condition exclusions and health status-based rating, and its recognition of people with disabilities as a health disparities group.”

The paper documents the historical split between health care and disability law, with Roberts contending that the previous reluctance of many disability rights activists to become involved with traditional health care law stems from the rejection of the medical model of disability in favor of the social model of disability: which highlighted society’s perceptions of disability over the individual’s condition.

In arguing that the Americans with Disabilities Act and related legislation failed to accomplish what the ACA achieved in regard to disability access and equality in the health care system, Roberts’ hypothesizes a new disability activist model, combining the best of both the health care and civil rights approaches. She also urges the disability activist community to continue expanding its partnerships with activists for the elderly and other health care rights organizations that began in the run-up to the passage of the ACA.

“Health-care reform represents the first instance in which these two communities have worked in tandem toward a common goal,” Roberts states. “Supporting health-care reform not only aligned people with differing kinds of disabilities but also coalesced the disability community and advocates for other groups to form a powerful lobby. Disabilities rights advocates may have thus laid the foundation for important alliances going forward.”