Responding to COVID-19

Communities across Massachusetts are pulling together as we endure the coronavirus public health crisis. Mainstays of our health care system, including providers, state government officials, and insurers are working hard to ensure access to health care.  

Still, for many disadvantaged people, health care access has become exponentially more difficult because of the pandemic. As a result, HLA’s mission is more important than ever. Access saves lives.

Here are ways HLA is stepping up during this unprecedented emergency:

Protecting access to lifesaving care for the most vulnerable
When the demand for lifesaving treatment overwhelms the capacity of hospitals, decisions on how to allocate resources must be made. HLA is fighting to ensure that guidelines for the allocation of resources during the pandemic do not discriminate against vulnerable populations. Our attorneys are engaging with state policymakers and hospitals in concert with allied advocates to prevent discriminatory withholding of lifesaving health care.

Ensuring Youth with Mental Illness Receive Services while Schools are Closed 
HLA's Mental Health Advocacy Program for Kids (MHAP for Kids) represents hundreds of youth throughout the Commonwealth that rely on school-based services to address their mental health needs. These services are increasingly critical because the pandemic exacerbates symptoms of mental illness, yet access to pediatric emergency mental health services is now sharply curtailed. MHAP for Kids attorneys are aggressively protecting their clients' rights to continue receiving these school-based services during school closures. Working with the Boston University School of Public Health, staff attorneys will collect data to show regression and loss of skills for students who do not receive appropriate services throughout the pandemic.

MHAP for Kids compiled a FAQ for community stakeholders to ensure children receive the services they need while schools are closed. In addition, MHAP created a toolkit, published by the American Bar Assocation Children's Rights Committee, to provide resources and support for parents and advocates across the country.

Defending Immigrants’ Rights to Access Health Care
At a time when it is vitally important for people to have unfettered access to health care, many immigrants do not feel safe entering the health care system. HLA continues to fight to reverse oppressive federal policies, like the Public Charge rule that deters immigrants from seeking health care (read our FAQ about navigating Public Charge during the COVID-19 pandemic here), and to promote public messages empowering immigrants to access health care. We are also increasing our capacity to represent immigrants and to assist their health care providers.

Making Testing and Treatment for COVID-19 accessible
HLA has urged policymakers to ensure there is cost-free testing and treatment for COVID-19 for all Massachusetts residents, including the uninsured and underinsured. Since the early days of the pandemic our attorneys have also pressed for allocation of resources for widespread testing facilities to identify and limit spread of the disease.

Maintaining Safe Access to In-Home Health Care Supports
Access to in-home health care, such as personal care attendant and home health aide services, is critical for individuals of all ages with significant disabilities and especially important now as congregate care is beset with elevated health risks. HLA, which has long prioritized access to in-home health care, is advocating for the removalof barriers to these services to maximize access and for steps to ensure the health and safety of in-home health care providers (read HLA's March 12th letter to Gov. Baker here).

Enrolling All Massachusetts Residents in Health Insurance
With everyone’s health at risk, universal health insurance enrollment is more urgent than ever. With thousands losing access to employer-based insurance coverage, there is no time to waste to avoid coverage gaps. HLA has advocated strongly for expanded open-enrollment and other policies to facilitate greater public health insurance coverage and eliminate coverage terminations. 

Safeguarding Access to Gender-Affirming Health Services
HLA and many allies have fought for years to defeat the undervaluing of healthcare for gender-diverse and transgender individuals, including gender-affirming care. While health care resources are rightfully diverted to address the pandemic, these services remain essential for residents who rely on them. Our attorneys are representing individuals and developing guidance to help others to maintain access to these critical services.

Promoting Access to Telehealth 
With the necessity of social distancing, HLA is escalating our previous advocacy for coverage of telemedicine services. We are leading a charge for a mandate on federally-regulated health plans to fully cover all telemedicine services.