By Linda A. Baumann, Arent Fox LLP, Washington, DC
My year as Chair of the ABA Health Law Section (“the Section”) ends at the ABA Annual Meeting on August 6, 2011, so this will be my final Chair’s Column. I am very pleased to be able to report that, despite significant challenges, we have had a very successful year. As a result of the recession, we started the Bar year facing significant financial issues which in turn had led to declining membership. In addition, due to previous resignations, we had lost two of our four staff members. It is an incredible tribute to our members, leadership and staff that we were able to maintain (and improve) our existing programs and undertake to establish several valuable new initiatives.
Building Relationships Inside and Outside the ABA
One of our priority initiatives this year was to further build relationships among our Interest Groups (IGs), between the Section and other ABA entities, and between the Section and the government. Towards this end, our Policy Review and Coordination Committee worked very closely with various IGs and other groups on several key initiatives. Most recently, the Accountable Care Organization (ACO) Task Force submitted detailed comments on behalf of the Section to CMS on the proposed ACO regulations. A second subgroup of the ACO Task Force worked with the ABA Antitrust Section to draft comments on the DOJ/FTC Proposed Statement of Antitrust Enforcement Policy Regarding ACOs. The Section also responded to an OIG request for comments on the Special Advisory Bulletin on “The Effect of Exclusion from Participation in Federal Health Care Programs,” and continues to work with the Social Security Administration to develop FAQs related to its proposed e-signature authorization initiative.
The Section’s role within the larger ABA has continued to expand in various ways, including through the reactivation of the Health Law Coordinating Group, which has facilitated collaborative efforts among the Section and the many other ABA entities that have an interest in some aspect of health law. Among other activities, the Section will be sponsoring a Report and Resolution related to Direct to Consumer Genetic Testing at the ABA Annual Meeting. We also have created a committee to work with the Section on Alternative Dispute Resolution to explore opportunities for joint CLE programming.
Our IGs continue to expand their activities, including the use of surveys to better ensure that IG activities meet member needs. Several new groups were created to address evolving Section member interests, including new Task Forces on ACOs and Long Term Care. A separate group for in-house counsel also is in the works. Several IGs have offered free teleconferences and podcasts for their members. The Public Health and Policy IG recently produced a free podcast, “Medical Marijuana: A Public Health Legal Conundrum?” available on the Section’s website.
In addition to hosting three very successful conferences this year (the Washington Healthcare Summit, Emerging Issues and the newly expanded Physician Legal Issues Conference), Section publications continue to thrive with several outstanding special editions of eSource added to the roster. We also have been working on an innovative new publication that should be ready this fall. The Stark and Antikickback Toolkit will be an invaluable research tool and will be available at special discounted rates for Section members. New practical guides on HIPAA and ACOs are also in the works. In addition, we held twenty teleconferences on a wide range of topics from Medicare/Medicaid basics to advanced HIPAA/HITECH issues to a law student career podcast.
The Breast Cancer Task Force continued to expand its collection of “Survivor Stories” and is working to update the Advocacy Guide that is used to train lawyers who are willing to help counsel breast cancer patients on legal issues related to their condition and treatment. The partnership with the Cancer Legal Resource Center is expanding. The Section co-sponsored the 2011 Cancer Rights Conferences being held in Chicago, IL, Washington, DC and Ann Arbor, MI. In addition, Breast Cancer Legal Advocacy Workshops were held in New Orleans, LA and Albuquerque, NM with others planned for sites in Ann Arbor, MI, Sacramento, CA and Tampa, FL. (Anyone who would like to volunteer to assist in this effort should contact Simeon Carson, Associate Director, at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Perhaps one of our most important initiatives this year involved increased outreach to our membership. We started with a survey last spring of all of our members. The Membership Committee used the survey results as a roadmap to help increase member satisfaction, and contacted everyone who indicated a desire to get more involved in Section activities. The success of these efforts has been notable. The ABA, like many other voluntary associations, has seen some membership decline since the onset of the recession. Our membership numbers are tied to the ABA since one has to join the ABA to become a member of the Section. Nevertheless, the Section has outperformed the ABA and other sections in terms of membership numbers, and recently became of the very few groups to reverse the trend. Our membership numbers have started growing again.
Our leadership this year was one of the most diverse groups ever on a wide variety of criteria, including race, gender, practice setting and geographic location. Moreover, since our leadership needs have changed as the Section has evolved, we undertook several new measures to help address these needs. A leadership retreat was convened to give officers and other key leaders an opportunity to develop Section goals and implementation strategies for the year. The meetings were very productive and led to the creation of several Section initiatives, such as the expansion of the IG leadership training program. As a result, the Section will be holding a similar leadership retreat next year. The Council implemented a mentoring program for new Council members, and one of our IGs also began to develop a mentoring program that we hope to roll out to other IGs in the near future. In addition, for the first time, IG Chairs were invited to formally participate in the February Council meeting. The resulting discussion of IG activities was extremely productive (and hopefully will encourage these individuals to move up within Section leadership).
On a more personal note, I worked closely with this year’s outstanding group of Section officers in order to facilitate continuity going forward. I am delighted to be able to turn Section leadership over to Chair-Elect David H. Johnson since I know the Section is in good hands.
Special thanks to our extraordinary staff: to Simeon Carson and Abbey Palagi who each carried the load of two people while we tried to fill vacancies and to Wanda Workman and Amy Alder who joined us this year and have already become essential members of the team. In addition, we have so many Section leaders and other members that were invaluable contributors to the Section’s accomplishments this year. I wish I could recognize all of you by name. Needless to say, we could not have managed without your expertise, enthusiasm and hard work. It has been an honor to serve as the Section Chair this year. Thank you for this opportunity.
The ABA Health eSource is distributed automatically to members of the ABA Health Law Section . Please feel free to forward it! Non-members may also sign up to receive the ABA Health eSource.