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ABA Health eSource
September 2010 Volume 7 Number 1

Chair's Column

By Linda A. Baumann, Arent Fox LLP, Washington, DC

Welcome to the 2010–2011 bar year of the ABA Health Law Section! I am very pleased and honored to have been elected to lead the Section this year. I have been involved in the Section for the past twelve years, almost since its creation as an ABA Section, and have found it to be one of the most beneficial and enjoyable parts of my practice as a health lawyer. The educational offerings, such as the Section’s publications, conferences, teleconferences, and other CLE, are outstanding. The chances to meet and work with colleagues in other practice areas through the larger ABA are unparalleled. The Section has also provided exceptional opportunities to develop my practice through giving me the chance to publish, speak, and take a leadership role in various committees. Perhaps most of all, I’ve really enjoyed the personal and professional relationships that have developed as a result of my Section membership. One of my goals for this year is to help all Section members who are interested to take advantage of these terrific opportunities.

HLS MEMBERSHIP SURVEY: Meeting your needs

Towards this end, the Section sent an electronic survey to our membership this past summer to find out what you liked, and didn’t like so much, about the Section. The results were extremely informative and generally very gratifying. We were very pleased (and somewhat surprised) at how many people took the time to send written comments, rather than simply checking off one box or another. To very briefly summarize the survey results: 72 percent of those responding were either very satisfied or satisfied with HLS membership (compared to 4 percent who were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied). When asked to rank membership benefits, most people found Section publications, periodicals, programming and other access to resources about health law issues as some of the most valuable membership benefits. Numerous other members also ranked Interest Group (IG) membership and networking opportunities, as well as various membership discounts and special access to certain materials, as important membership benefits.

INTEREST GROUP MEMBERSHIP IS AN IMPORTANT BENEFIT AND IT’S FREE

The survey questions related to IGs were particularly interesting. Similar to our membership overall, somewhat more than half of the survey respondents belonged to IGs. I think it’s fair to say that many of us were shocked to find that almost a third of those who don’t belong to an IG said they’d never heard of an IG, and 16 percent said they couldn’t afford to pay the additional cost to join an IG. Obviously, we have something of a failure to communicate since THE SECTION HAS 12 IGs and MEMBERSHIP IN UP TO 3 IGs IS FREE! Moreover, in response to comments on the survey, we have just created a new Long Term Care Task Force (which will be made a formal IG if there is sufficient interest and activity).

The IGs and task forces you can join are:

The fact that so many members are missing out on IG membership is ironic, since IG members noted how helpful IGs were for purposes of getting access to timely information, networking and providing an opportunity to get more involved in Section activities, such as publications, speaking and leadership. I’d really like to emphasize how important IG membership can be. Since we try very hard not to bury you in emails, many communications, such as updates on new regulatory developments, are sent out through the IG list serves to ensure a more targeted audience. The panels at our Emerging Issues Conference (EMI) are largely planned based on IG proposals. The Teleconference Committee looks to the IGs for program topics and speaker suggestions. Similarly, our various publications committees have liaisons from the IGs who help suggest topics and authors. Moreover, there are a number of leadership opportunities that originate in the IGs. Please click here to join an IG!

YOU CAN (AND SHOULD) GET INVOLVED

As in most surveys, we received some comments that were at odds with each other. While a number of people commented on the wonderful networking and personal opportunities (“meeting folks you will have as friends for life” and “leaders in section are open to new members and seek their involvement”), other respondents felt that the Section needed to be more inclusive and that the same names appeared too often among the leadership. I would like to point out that under our bylaws, the leaders of one group may be required to also participate in others. (For example, you’ll see my name several times in the leadership roster because, as Chair, I also am required to sit on the Committees on Diversity and Finance.) That being said, the Section takes its responsibility to encourage diversity among our membership and leadership very seriously, in terms of gender as well as race, ethnicity and other factors.. In making appointments we also factor in practice setting and geographic diversity whenever possible. As a result, our leadership this year is extremely diverse and representative of our membership. When looking for authors, speakers and other leaders, the first criterion has to be an individual’s qualifications. However, all of our leaders in the IGs and the various administrative committees know about the Section’s commitment to be as inclusive as possible. Moreover, if you want to get involved, you just need to let us know. Ten people specifically responded to the survey because they wanted to become more active in the work of the Section. I understand that the Membership Committee has already contacted all of these individuals. If you didn’t respond to the survey but would like to get more involved, we want to hear from you. Please contact Associate Director Simeon Carson at Simeon.Carson@americanbar.org or 312.988.5824 and someone will get back to you.

As a last, somewhat tongue in cheek, diversity initiative, we are planning a social event at EMI for non-golfers. The Margarita Cup Golf Tournament will take place the Saturday after EMI, but there also will be at least one “alternative” event. A planning committee has been formed and since we’ll be in New Orleans, I understand there are a number of great ideas currently under consideration. So please plan to stay through Saturday to spend some fun time with your colleagues.

OTHER 2011 SECTION PRIORITIES

The survey also asked respondents to rank the most important section objectives for this coming year. The top-ranked priorities were to increase programming and publications related to healthcare reform, followed by maintaining the current level of overall member services and seeking Section involvement in the policy/regulatory processes related to healthcare reform. Speaking on behalf of the Section’s Officers, the Governing Council and the other leaders, we will do our best to accomplish these objectives.

In fact, the process of outreach to government agencies in connection with healthcare reform has already begun. On July 8, 2010, several members of Section leadership met with CMS officials to discuss the Stark Law’s physician self-referral disclosure protocol (SRDP) that was mandated by PPACA. Several CMS officials, including Troy Barsky and Gerry Walters and members of their staffs attended the meeting. We had a productive discussion in which we presented various issues, questions and suggestions on the implementation of the SRDP, a number of which had been provided by Section members in response to a solicitation sent out prior to the meeting. CMS also solicited our views on what types of Stark violations involved more or less fault on the part of the entity billing Medicare, and whether and how CMS could categorize and treat such violations.  (In his last Chair’s Column, my eminent predecessor David Hilgers noted the complexities associated with taking an “ABA” position on such issues, and the information we provided was in our individual capacity as informed by comments received from some of our members.) As expected, CMS did not provide any specifics on how it planned to implement the SRDP, although it did indicate that it felt it had sufficient resources to handle the potentially large number of self-disclosures that might result from the SRDP’s publication. The meeting was a successful first step in the process of developing an open door for future communications on this and other Stark-related issues. Moreover, the Section’s Policy Review and Coordination Committee will be trying to initiate and develop these types of relationships between the Section and various other CMS components during the coming year. Outreach to the IGs for help on this project has already begun.  

With regard to publications, survey respondents provided almost 50 suggestions for book topics ranging from healthcare reform to bioethics to mental health, and the Publications Committee is reviewing these and other suggestions to establish publication priorities for the coming year. The various Program Committees will continue to incorporate healthcare reform-related topics into our conferences and teleconferences, and the Washington Healthcare Summit, being held December 6 and 7, 2010, will provide extraordinary insights into PPACA implementation this year.

SECTION CHALLENGES

While healthcare reform has provided us with many exciting opportunities, the economic downturn has created certain challenges that we also must address this year. The ABA is in the process of streamlining certain of its operations in order to increase efficiencies. While the Section’s financial situation remains strong, we may well be impacted by ABA cutbacks and have to adjust some of our operations as a result. Membership in the ABA also has been affected by the financial difficulties many attorneys now face, and this obviously impacts Section membership, as well. It is a priority to maintain Section membership despite these challenges, and the Membership Committee will be implementing an action plan to achieve this goal. Meanwhile, I hope you will encourage your colleagues to join us. No matter where they live, or whether they practice at a firm, in the government or in-house, the Health Law Section can provide them with invaluable resources and benefits.

Another challenge we face this year is the loss of some of the Section’s wonderful staff members. Sena Leach, who did an outstanding job with various Section programs resigned in July to take a job closer to home, and Jill Peña, our superb Section Director, has been promoted to the higher echelons of ABA leadership. They will be greatly missed, but Simeon Carson and Abbey Palagi have done a fantastic job filling in where needed . Jill has been incredibly gracious in agreeing to stay on until her replacement is named. Meanwhile, we all were delighted when Simeon agreed to assume a new role as Section Associate Director. The two remaining staff vacancies should be filled in the next month or two.

I’d also like to thank David Hilgers, my immediate predecessor. The State of the Section letter that you recently received describes the Section’s many achievements in 2010 under David’s leadership. It is thanks to his efforts and those of all the former members of Section leadership that the Section is as strong and vibrant as it is today. I hope to follow their example.

The ABA Health eSource

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