Health Care Goes to Law School

With the advent of managed care and the assortment of health care reform bills that have been voted out of Congress recently, healthcare is closing in on becoming an area of legal specialization. Some law schools now teach health law in a program format, with a series of courses available that cover various aspects of the subject. Upon completion of the requisite course hours and field work, the law student is awarded with a Certificate in Health Law to accompany his Juris Doctor on the office wall.

Medical malpractice and insurance disputes have been stalwarts in the legal field for years. A newer area of legal conflict are bioethical issues which, at this point, are equally at home in the legislature as in court. Included in this area are matters such as genetic data privacy, gene- based alterations of agricultural and pharmaceutical products, and a number of medical therapies coming on line. These are public policy issues that are working their way into the courtroom. Related to these issues is the body of law that has grown around the Food and Drug Administration and, among other issues, their administration of drug development.

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Individual rights are a legal healthcare issue when in comes to compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Access to health care for the poor is a developing civil rights issue, with national advocacy groups in place and classes in law schools addressing the matter as a sole topic. The right to privacy for personal medical records has been a major political and legal concern. The passage of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) created an entire legal structure for the protection and personal control of an individual’s medical records. But as with every protective measure there are exceptions, and those have led to a small but lively industry of HIPAA inspired lawsuits.

Healthcare delivery and child welfare are occasionally conflicting issues that speak to parental rights and have been fought out in highly publicized trials. Withholding important medical educational information from children has also come before the courts. Public health is a major area of legal specialty, involving state and federal legislation, funding, regulation and healthcare as it relates to taxes.

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Managed care issues that are addressed in law school include health care financing, antitrust due to the consolidation of HMOs and equal access. Medicare and Medicaid rights are closely related to managed care, as is the issue of assumed risk for the medical personnel who work for the large and growing healthcare organizations. Fraud and system abuse have also become worthy of legal study since false insurance claims begin to emerge as a substantial problem, involving both patients and the medical community.

At least one law school has an entire course dedicated to e-medicine. Among other things it covers the transmission of medical imaging and pharmaceutical practices: generally the issues are security, privacy and technology. Records transmission and claims transactions are points of discussion within the context of the internet as an active participant in the practice of medicine.

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