Federal Legislation May Be Boon to Medical-Legal Partnerships

We’ve covered the ascendance of medical-legal parnterships (MLPs), which are collaborations between medical and legal professionals to attack the root causes of many health problems in low-income communities.  For instance, if a family is living in substandard conditions (utility shut-offs in winter, mold in house, lack of food, etc.), this often leads to medical problems and trips to the emergency room.  Doctors can address the effects of these conditions – the health problems – but not the causes.  This is where lawyers come in.  Lawyers and paralegals can work through administrative and other legal channels to ensure that a low-income family’s rights are protected and that they have access to public benefits.  This in turn, cuts down on expensive emergency medical treatments, which is a win not only for the family but for everyone who supports the cost structure of the healthcare system. 

Yesterday,  the American Medical News reported that federal lawmakers have taken note of the potential of MLPs this summer, and have proposed legislation in both houses that may end up supporting the expansion of MLPs nationwide:

A bipartisan group of lawmakers has introduced bills that would allocate $10 million to test the value of medical-legal partnerships…

On July 29, [Sen. Tom] Harkin [D, Iowa], along with Sens. Evan Bayh (D, Ind.) and Kit Bond (R, Mo.), introduced the bill — the Medical-Legal Partnerships for Health Act. Reps. Daniel Maffei (D, N.Y.) and Christopher Murphy (D, Conn.) introduced companion legislation in the House….

The lawmakers said the legislation would:

  • Provide federal support to hospitals and attorneys to establish MLPs and encourage local buy-in by requiring each MLP to match at least 10% of federal grant funding.
  • Help cut health care costs by reducing emergency department visits.
  • Support a healthier work force by reducing the rate at which employees are absent from work or show up despite being ill.

Law students have played important roles in making MLPs work.  The article notes, for instance, that “[a]t the University of Kansas, law students work at the Family Health Care Legal Services Clinic to assist poor clients who have been referred to them through Southwest Boulevard Family Health Care in Kansas City…”

If you are a student and are interested in getting involved, find out what’s going on in your school or in your local legal services community.  MLPs are popping up throughout the country, so it may be that you’ll have a chance to make a contribution on the ground floor.  And to learn more, check out the National Center for Medical Legal Partnership’s website.

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