By David W. Hilgers, Brown McCarroll, L.L.P., Austin, TX
I was recently invited by our healthcare colleagues in the military to speak to a 2010 Health Law Conference of the Joint Department of Defense and MedCom in San Antonio. Major Joseph Topinka in the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate, who is a member of the Health Law Section, asked me to come and speak on the top issues facing health lawyers in 2010. It was a very enlightening experience.
First, I will have to say that our military counterparts are extraordinarily polite and hospitable. On arrival I was greeted, offered water, bags, pens, and materials of all sorts about the military. I was very generously introduced and amazingly, the audience was extremely attentive (which is unusual for my talks). No one got up to leave, no one was reading their BlackBerries, and the audience gave me a generous round of applause (which is also not my normal expectation). Finally, at the end of the talk I was given a commemorative medal reflecting my participation in the conference. It was a very nice experience.
In preparing my presentation, I was somewhat at a loss to determine what the healthcare lawyers in the military would find interesting about the topics that I could discuss. When I looked at the topics they were going to hear about, they included What’s New in Military Health Law, Tri-Care Management Activity, Legal and Ethical Dilemmas and Informed Consent, Tort Claims Act Update, Joint Capital Medical Command Update, Disaster Operations Overseas, Current Issues in Medical Contracting, and Deployment Lessons, among others. They did have some familiar topics, such as Informed Consent, Bioethics Panel, and HIPAA Issues, but there was nothing about healthcare reform, Stark and anti-kickback, antitrust or restructuring of the provider industry. However, Major Topinka informed me that they did want to hear about the private sectors. That was a good thing, since that was all I could talk about.
Yet, as I gave the presentation, I was struck by the diversity of health law. The military has been living with the single payer system for a very long time. Many of their issues revolve around what is more like our disaster planning, rather than chronic illness. They discussed HIPAA in the context of “mass casualties.” They discussed informed consent in the context of battlefield injuries. In other words, their healthcare world is dramatically different from the one most of us deal with.
There are other examples of healthcare practices that are quite different from what we consider mainstream; for example, Indian health, veterans health, or public health. There are lawyers who work for the CDC or NIH, which deal with other aspects of healthcare. It is an amazingly broad spectrum of issues, problems, fact situations, and circumstances.
It seems to me that it would be one of the goals of the Health Law Section to reach out to as many of those diverse areas as is possible, within the limits of our financial and staff resources. Linda Baumann, the incoming chair of the Section, has gotten a head start and is sending out a survey to all of the members of the Health Law Section asking for their thoughts on how we are doing and how we might improve. I would encourage all of you to respond to this survey because it will give the Section leadership a clearer understanding of what your needs are and how we can meet those needs. Particularly, if there are areas of law that we need to address, or initiatives that we need to begin, please let us know.
It doesn’t take much thought to realize the breadth and depth of health law. It virtually can involve every other area of law that exists. For that reason, the Health Law Section needs to be vigilant in its efforts to bring the resources that the entire legal community needs in order to practice in the healthcare arena. We look forward to your response.
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