ABA Health eSource
January 2011 Volume 7 Number 5

Chair's Column
By William W. Horton, Haskell Slaughter Young & Rediker, LLC, Birmingham, AL*

 “Why don’t they ever talk to someone who understands how this stuff works?”

How many times have we read a new regulation and wondered something like that? As healthcare lawyers, we face a constant challenge in advising our clients how to apply new legal requirements and interpretations that don’t seem to match up with the way those clients experience life in the real world, or that leave fundamental practical questions unanswered or unanswerable. (Remember “Can you have a one-physician ‘group practice’?” and “What’s an ‘additional practice restriction’ anyway?”) Sometimes it seems like all you can do is shrug sheepishly at your clients and say, “I don’t write the regulations.”

And you don’t (unless you’re one of our government members who does, of course, in which case we want to help you!). But the Health Law Section offers you an opportunity that no other broad-based healthcare bar organization does: the opportunity to make the voice of the organized healthcare bar heard in the legislative, regulatory and administrative process. We do this through the combined work of our Interest Groups (IGs), special working groups and the Section’s Policy Review and Coordination Committee, which I have the privilege of chairing.

The Committee works with our IGs and with ad hoc working groups and task forces to help the Section marshal formal and informal comments and other input on federal and state rulemaking initiatives, policy studies and legislative proposals. Depending on the subject, the end product of these activities may be informal comments, formal comments on behalf of the Section as an entity, or reports and recommendations to the ABA House of Delegates that establish ABA-wide policy. The Committee works with IGs and other member groups to determine the best approach in a given situation and to help develop and refine the work product so that it meets ABA standards. In the past few months, these efforts have included:

  • Joint comments from the Tax and Accounting IG and the Exempt Organizations Committee of the Section of Taxation on the IRS’s community needs assessment rules
  • A meeting by leadership of the Section and the Fraud and Compliance IG leadership with high-level CMS officials on the new Self-Referral Disclosure Protocol, with follow-up comments
  • Ongoing consultation by the e-Health and Privacy IG with the Social Security Administration on electronic records issues
  • Pending comments to the OIG on its update to the 1999 Special Advisory Bulletin on Program Exclusion, being prepared by a multi-IG working group

These activities are not lobbying efforts designed to influence regulators to favor one part of the healthcare universe over another or to protect the special interests of particular constituencies – the Section’s membership and the client interests that our members represent are much too broad and diverse for that. Rather, these efforts represent Section activities aimed at pursuing one of the highest ideals of the organized bar – to work with legislators and regulators to make the law work better for everyone. Our members help the rule-writers understand how to make laws and policies clearer. They point out unintended consequences of policy changes and suggest positive solutions. They offer real-world insights to help bridge the gap between policy and pragmatism.

Beyond that, the Policy Review and Coordination Committee works with our Section leaders and the Section’s representatives to the House of Delegates – the ABA’s primary policymaking body – to review proposals that come before the House and ensure that the voice of the Health Law Section is heard on the issues that matter to you and your clients. Through providing knowledgeable support (and sometimes constructive criticism) to the ABA’s internal legislative process, we help make sure that the Health Law Section remains the authoritative voice within the ABA on healthcare issues.

In this era of healthcare reform, there’s never been a better time to make your voice heard through the work of the Section. We have a unique opportunity to help shape laws and policies that will affect not only our clients, but the ways in which the healthcare system works for our children and their children. Can there be a more exciting time to play your part in the work of the Section?

Want to get involved? It’s simple. Contact your IG leaders, any member of the Policy Review and Coordination Committee (we’re on the Section website) or me and let us know what you’re interested in and what areas of policy focus you think are most important to the Section. Volunteer when you get a solicitation to join a regulatory working group. Call any member of our great staff or any member of the Section’s Governing Council (all of the contact information is on the Section website) and share your ideas. If you’re interested in helping make healthcare policy work better, you’re in the right place. There’s simply no better platform for getting involved in the process than the Health Law Section, but remember, the Section is you. We need your active involvement for our voice to be heard.

So what are you waiting for? Speak up!

-- Bill

William W. Horton
Chair, Policy Review and Coordination Committee

*This month's Chair's Column is written by guest columnist, William W. Horton, Chair of the Health Law Section's Policy Review and Coordination Committee.

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