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ABA Health eSource
 March 2008 Volume 4 Number 7

Chair's Column: State Of The Section
by Andrew J. Demetriou, Fulbright & Jaworski LLP, Los Angeles, CA

Andrew J. DemetriouIn accordance with our Section tradition, I addressed a plenary gathering at our recently concluded Emerging Issues Conference in San Diego to report on the state of your Health Law Section. I emphasize the plural possessive, because this Section belongs to its loyal members. I have decided to share the substance of my comments with those were unable to join us in San Diego as this month's column.

As with those who have preceded me, I report to you as a temporary custodian of the trust and loyalty you have placed in the Officers and Council members to provide value to you and justify your membership in the ABA and the Health Law Section.

I am pleased to report that the state of the Section is excellent. I would like to recount a few of the achievements that have occurred since the conclusion of last year's Annual Meeting:

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid provided us with a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate our mettle by promulgating the long awaited Stark III regulations. Our superb Programs and Publications Committees responded in fine fashion by producing an outstanding teleconference as well as a special issue of the Health Lawyer with comprehensive coverage of the new rules. Our gratitude is extended to Bill Horton and Mike E. Clark, who mobilized our efforts.

We enjoyed a very successful Washington Summit this past December, thanks to a wonderful Committee under the direction of Jeff Micklos and Bonnie Brier. Our speakers included Administrator Kerry Weems of CMS and Representative Pete Stark and our panels addressed important issues of public policy. We demonstrated our commitment to constructive dialogues with our colleagues in government service and look forward to furthering our contacts.

David Johnson has ably led our Task Force on Healthcare Liability Issues, which assures the Section will continue to have a credible voice on important issues such as telehealth, "I'm Sorry" legislation, and proposed changes to reporting of medical errors, both within the ABA and to the broader healthcare community. We intend to propose resolutions for ABA Policy on telehealth at this year's Annual Meeting.

We have produced a string of very solid teleconferences, covering a range of issues relevant to our members. These programs have been aimed at lawyers of all experience levels with healthcare issues and have included a wide range of speakers, including government representatives and culturally diverse participants. The quality of our programs is a tribute to the efforts of our Programs Committee and the leadership of our Interest Groups, who have provided important suggestions as well as faculty for these programs.

We are engaged in two significant public service projects. First is our support of initiatives to promote Medical-Legal Partnerships, which assure that patients and their families have access to needed legal services in a hospital setting, so that they can address questions ranging from eligibility for benefits to estate planning and advance directives for healthcare. We enjoyed a very informative presentation at EMI by the directors of medical legal clinics in Boston and New York, and thank them for their participation in our program. Second, we have created a Breast Cancer Task Force, to assume the very successful effort initiated by the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession to educate lawyers as advocates for breast cancer patients and their families. I commend our Section Secretary Linda Baumann for providing needed leadership in this important effort.

Our Publications Chair Mike E. Clark brought to press an excellent new treatise on Pharmaceutical Manufacturing and Distribution Law, with is our fifth major book and a text of singular importance.

Our former Chair Paul DeMuro has continued our Section's engagement on international projects and our productive relationships with Section of International Law and International Bar Association to work on projects of common interest. I am pleased to report that our Section will be a co-sponsor of a major program on international legal issues affecting the pharmaceutical industry in Paris later this year.

We were overwhelmed by a very strong response to our Student Writing Competition, with over 25 quality manuscripts submitted to our judges. I want to congratulate Michele Westhoff who produced the winning manuscript and received an honorable mention on a second submission in our competition. A group of our law student writers were present at EMI and will be reporting on the presentations there for an upcoming issue of the Health Lawyer.

We are beginning to see the fruits of our reorganization of Section Committees and leadership in enhanced engagement with the greater ABA, key roles on Standing and Special Committees and participation in events such as ABA Day at the UN, ABA Day in Washington and the World Justice Forum.

Finally, I am very proud of our 9th Emerging Issues Conference, which featured outstanding panels addressing the most significant topics in health care law and policy. I was humbled by the praise I heard from very seasoned attendees as well as first time conference participants and am happy that we reinforced our reputation for providing a congenial and welcoming event for our members. The success of EMI was a reflection not only of the great organizing committee, under the leadership of Hilary Young, Dave Flynn and Joel Wakefield as well as our dedicated staff, but it also reflected the momentum we have created over the past several years in molding an annual program of excellence and importance.

Our financial position is sound and we are exploring new efforts to secure sponsorships and sources of non-dues revenues. These measures will provide us with the financial resources to add staff to meet the changing needs of our members and provide new offerings for your benefit. I am optimistic about our future as a Section, in that we have strong leadership and a deep bench of talented and committed volunteers who will assure that our programs and services to you, our members, will continue at the highest level of quality.

While we have much to be proud of, I believe our greatest work lies ahead of us. Our nation stands at a crossroads in reform of our healthcare delivery and financing systems. The current election campaigns have highlighted the dissatisfaction of a great many Americans with access to care, quality and safety, costs of care and the baffling complexity of our reimbursements systems, both public and private. We see the wellsprings of change at the state level and I have little doubt that the next President will propose significant measures to address the large number of uninsured in our country. We also must recognize that the solutions to perceived problems in our healthcare system are complex and must take account of public expectations and institutional inertia that have been fostered over the past sixty years.

Americans have come to expect world class care at a moment's notice and will not likely take well to a system in which care is rationed or delayed. Our medical schools produce the finest physicians in the world, but at enormous cost, leaving us with a cadre of young doctors burdened by significant educational debt and the consequent need for high incomes. Employers and government seek to control the costs of providing care, but neither has demonstrated the ability to organize the provider community effectively, and instead we rely on an intricate system of health insurance and payment administration by the private sector that is expensive and necessarily complex. The effects of change in any of these artifacts of our system will have profound consequences for all of us.

Against the backdrop, our challenge as a Section is to be relevant to public debate over healthcare reform and relevant to the development of solutions. We are relevant when we develop quality non-partisan scholarship and serve as a repository of thought on important legal issues that bear on reform. We are relevant when we prepare our members, through education, to address the critical issues that will affect their clients.

We are relevant when we engage in public service projects to help people in crisis obtain access to care and protection of their legal rights. Our Medical-Legal Partnership initiative and Breast Cancer Task Force will ensure that we contribute to the public.

We are relevant when we engage without our colleagues in government to promote dialogue that will improve understanding and respect for the rule of law and the administration of law, but also work to ensure that laws and regulations are developed and enforced in a way that enhances the participation of all sectors of the healthcare economy as well as protecting the public.

We are relevant when we recognize that the globalization of healthcare is upon us. We must be aware of issues as diverse as pandemic preparation, cross-border delivery of services, international development, marketing and distributions of pharmaceuticals and reform efforts affecting healthcare systems around the world.

We are relevant when we engage the ABA through our participation in the House of Delegates, Standing and Special Committees and other entities, to assure that its statements of policy on healthcare issues are enlightened and reflect our best thinking.

The challenge of doing these things has been embraced by your Section leadership. With your help we will strive to continue to deliver value to you as our members and assure a meaningful role for your Section into the future.