September 2013 Volume 10 Number 1

Section Chair's Column: Are You a Health Lawyer?

By Kathleen Scully-Hayes, Social Security Administration, Baldwin, MD

AuthorAs I pondered (for weeks!) what I would write about in my first column as this year’s Chair of the Health Law Section, I did a couple of things. First, I searched for old copies of the Health Lawyer. I managed to find 10 in various locations throughout the house – several filed away in the bookshelves of my home office, a few in the reading table next to the chair I usually inhabit in the family room and still more (waiting to be read!) in the basket next to the bed. As I read through each column – some by David Douglass, some by Linda Baumann and still others by David Johnson, I realized these are hard acts to follow – (seriously, who could ever top that Acoma Pueblo column??) So, in an effort to stem the rising sense of panic I was experiencing as the weeks of August raced by, each marked off by our Executive Director, Wanda Workman, helpfully reminding me during our weekly calls that my first column was due the first week of September, I decided I needed another approach.

I decided that instead of searching through past-chairs’ columns for inspiration, I should look at my own involvement in the section. Why have I been involved with the ABA – specifically the Health Law Section, for more than 15 years? I have been a government attorney for my entire legal career – why did I end up in the Health Law Section and not the Administrative Law section? I guess the answer is that I think of myself as a health lawyer. I spent the first nineteen years of my legal career at the Department of Health and Human Ser­vices: six years in the office of General Counsel and 13 years in-house at The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. It was during those years that I became involved with the ABA Health Law Section, initially through speaking at conferences and writing, followed by involvement with publications and planning committees. Although my own professional focus for many years was on the narrow area of payment and reimbursement, I was “sucked in” by the ever-growing list of topics that fall under the heading of healthcare law. Privacy, employee benefits, fraud and abuse, physician issues, public health and policy to name just a few; all were topics that not only crossed my desk at the office, but also were the sub­ject of much public debate. When I had the opportunity to make a career change five years ago and became an administrative law judge, I asked myself whether I was still a health lawyer, and did I still belong in the Health Law Section? Given that most of the people I see are seek­ing help because of life-changing health problems, the answer was obvious. I am a health lawyer, and the Health Law Section is where I belong because it provides me with the tools and support I need to succeed in my career, and offers insight into the health law issues and challenges facing each of us.

Earlier this summer, after attending the Physicians Legal Issues Conference in Chicago, I accompanied then- Section Chair David Douglass to a meeting with the ABA Board of Governors. The Board meets periodically with individual section leaders, and it was Health Law’s turn. We shared with the Board several of our Section’s accomplishments and brought to its attention some of our ongoing challenges. David led off his remarks to the Board with the comment that, no matter what your area of legal expertise, at some point, we are all health lawyers. He was right. You may not make a living analyzing the tax implications of ambulatory surgery center joint ventures or delving into healthcare fraud settlements. But chances are good that at some point some part of your practice will confront a health law question, if not at work, then probably at the dinner table as you try to guide your young adult chil­dren through the process of picking a health insurance provider as they start their first job or as you assist your elderly parents and or grandparents as they attempt to navigate through the world of Medicare and prescription drug coverage.

Even those of us who consider ourselves to be health lawyers are often stymied by questions we are unable to answer. Indeed, you may spend your days deep in the weeds of Stark and Anti-Kickback provisions only to be brought up short when a relative develops a serious health problem, is suddenly without healthcare coverage and needs to under­stand the intricacies of The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (“COBRA”), or is grappling with breast cancer and has questions concerning her employ­ment rights. Whether we specialize in it, or stumble across it, we are all confronted with legal questions regularly that come under the giant umbrella known as health law. Where do you look for answers to your health law ques­tions? Your answer should be the Health Law Section of the ABA.

In July, we held a Section-wide leadership/business meeting in Denver. For the first time we were able to bring our Council members, Officers, and Staff together with the talented leaders of our Interest Groups, Task Forces and Administrative Committees for a planning and training meeting. As the incoming Chair, I had the opportunity to sit in on several of the meetings. The enthusiasm and energy of each person present at the meeting was inspiring. Equally inspiring was the depth of experience and areas of expertise that each participant brought to the meeting. I was struck by the variety of backgrounds that make up this Section. There were partners from large law firms, solo practitioners, in-house counsel, government lawyers, law professors, and lawyers who were also physicians and/or allied health professionals. There were mediators and members of the military, young lawyers and people who have practiced for many years. Although these leaders brought a tremendous diversity of experience and background to the meeting, they all have one thing in common – they are health lawyers who are committed to the Health Law Section of the ABA. They are equally committed to sharing their knowledge and expertise. That commitment is exhibited in our programs and publications, our webinars and on our website. The most timely health law topics and questions are continually researched and analyzed by our interest group and task force members. Even more exciting is the exchange of ideas and support our members offer each other.

Our interest groups and task forces cover a wide-ranging list of topics, some well-known, some not so well-known. Additionally, as changes in healthcare law create additional practice opportunities, the Health Law Section has expanded to include new topics, such as Nursing and Allied Health, Substance Use Disorders, and Conflict Resolution in Healthcare, to name a few. In the coming months, I plan to use this column to highlight the work of our newer and/or less well-known interest groups and task forces.

In the meantime, I encourage all of you – the full time health law practitioners and the occasional health law dabblers – to look to our Section when you need answers to your health law questions. Our live and web-based programing, our publications and our website offer a wealth of information. Join an interest group (or 3), it is free! Conversely, if you have knowledge and or insights you would like to share, the Health Law Section needs you, as well. If you have suggestions or comments on how we can better serve our members, please call or email me or any of the officers or Council members. We welcome your input.

So, are you a health lawyer? If your answer is yes, then the Health Law Section is where you, too belong!

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.