Degree program addresses health-care need for lawyers

In recent years, federal and state legislators have focused on public health care policy. As a result, health care providers, pharmaceutical companies, health-insurance companies, and private public-interest firms need health law professionals to advocate on their behalf.

Legal and medical experts agree that health law is one of the fastest-growing areas of legal practice. Health care reform is just one of several reasons for growth in this sector. Additional reasons include more government regulation of health care, the rise of bioethical and biotechnology issues, tort reform related to malpractice, aging of the baby boomer generation, and the consequent growth of Medicare.

Government agencies at both the state and federal levels need health law professionals to develop program policies and to promulgate regulations. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is the leading federal agency that formulates health care policy and regulations.

Primary settings for practicing health care law are nonprofit advocacy and public-interest organizations, hospitals, health services corporations, health administration and regulatory government agencies, and public-interest firms. For example, one nonprofit advocacy organization is the National Health Law Project (NHLP), which works to improve health care for the impoverished, uninsured, unemployed, minorities, elderly, and disabled. Nonprofit corporations are mostly comprised of hospitals and community clinics.

Specialization in health law is facilitated by a master’s degree, abbreviated LL.M., awarded to lawyers after receiving their law degree. LL.M. Health Law programs usually require an additional year of study. Integration of medical-legal issues spans a wide range of career interests, such as health-care administration, program and policy development, public health, biomedical and biotechnical research, and the pharmaceutical industry.

California Western School of Law and UC San Diego have joined forces to create a health law master’s degree program, as part of the Institute of Health Law Studies. According to their website, “We encourage our students to take courses in law at California Western School of Law, other graduate courses such as those in the Department of Political Science and the School of Medicine at UC San Diego, and public health courses at San Diego State University.”

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Employment of all lawyers, not just those in health care, is expected to grow about 14 percent in the coming decade, primarily as a result of growth in the population and in the general level of business activities. Job growth among lawyers will also result from increasing demand for legal services in not just health care, but in such areas as intellectual property, venture capital, energy, elder, antitrust, and environmental law.

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