The Chair's Corner
What Makes a Lawyer Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise?

By Keith B. McLennan

In this issue of GPSolo, our thoughtful editors have tackled the topic of health law. Many of you may think health law deals solely with the medical malpractice debate, when, in fact, it covers topics ranging from the dreaded maze of Medicare and Medicaid regulations, to COBRA benefits, to HIPAA privacy rules, to effectively deposing doctors, to those practical topics such as health insurance for your office.

Long-Term Care Planning

There is no doubt that with the graying of our population, health care and the legal implications thereof will dominate the way we lawyers practice. If we take a moment to think about trends in the law instead of just reacting to our everyday cases, we will quickly realize that issues of Medicaid and long-term care planning will continue as a primary area of concern to our clients and their families. Although we are no longer faced with the “granny’s-lawyer-goes-to-jail” rule passed by Congress during the Clinton administration, we now have a five-year look-back period to qualify for long-term care benefits for nursing home care, instead of a three-year period, making it exceedingly difficult for families to preserve assets for the next generation. Nevertheless, regardless of our practice areas, we lawyers will be asked to render an opinion for a family member or friend on this complicated issue. We should at least have a basic understanding of it.

Special Needs Trusts

Special needs trusts are also in vogue. As the baby boomers age, their children with special needs face the loss of their greatest advocates: their parents. Accordingly, clients are seeking our help more and more to design trusts that will supplement their children’s care and not deny them government benefits upon which they rely to live. We must be equipped to provide them creative solutions to help them accomplish that goal.

The Health Insurance Conundrum

As our clients age, their need for health care and thus health insurance becomes greater. The more the cost of health care increases, the more employers cut back on providing it as a benefit. And as more employers cut back, inevitably, the taxpayer must cover the shortfall. Of course, we lawyers deal with it from all sides. We assist our clients as employees to obtain coverage; we help our clients develop affordable plans; and in our own firms we grapple with the burdensome costs while striking a balance to provide coverage for our own employees. Issues such as medical savings plans, innovative underwriting of private insurance and public resources, and employer-tax-friendly methods such as Section 125 Plans not only need to be explored but implemented by us for ourselves and our clients.

For example, Massachusetts recently passed what is referred to as the Health Care Reform Law. That law requires all employers to provide their employees a tax-friendly way of purchasing health insurance through what amounts to an implementation of a Section 125 Plan. The plan permits employees to devote a portion of their pre-tax wages toward payment of medical insurance. An employer could be liable to reimburse the state for the payment of medical bills if that employer failed to provide a Section 125 Plan for employees. Clearly the law is designed to impact employers in the pocketbook by either forcing them to provide medical insurance or a Section 125 Plan to encourage employees to obtain that coverage.

Those are just a few examples of how health law touches many of us. I hope that this issue of GPSolo magazine will help you better understand some of the health law issues facing us and our clients and provide you with practical knowledge and tools to deal with them confidently. Of course, it is not a treatise on health law—that is much too large a topic for a magazine article or even an entire magazine. However, this issue should provide you a start and give you insight from various authorities on the topic. You can follow up on what you have read here with participation and discussion on Solosez or through the Health Law Section of the American Bar Association, or by communicating with your friends in the GP|Solo Division or with me, and I will make sure that our experts help you. This vast network known as the General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Division is designed to provide you with practical tools and assistance so you can simplify your practice, your profession, and your life. If you meet the health law needs of your clients, I guarantee that you will be a lawyer who is healthy, wealthy, and wise. 

Copyright 2007

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