Senate bill aims to integrate law, public health

A bipartisan group of senators on Thursday unveiled legislation designed to cut healthcare costs by offering legal services to patients in public health settings.

Sponsored by Sens. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) and Kit Bond (R-Mo.), the $10 million proposal would create a federal demonstration project to test the cost effectiveness of medical-legal partnerships (MLPs), which encourage preventive care by bringing attorneys into hospitals and other public health centers.

A victim of domestic violence, for instance, might need legal advice to prevent the next attack, the senators note; or a patient with chronic conditions might need a lawyer to deal with housing issues; or disabled patients might need legal guidance to avail Medicaid benefits.

"Assistance in navigating our legal system is sometimes all it takes to prevent individuals and their families from making repeated trips to the doctor or hospital for a reoccurring condition," Harkin, who chairs the Senate health committee, said in a statement.

A similar MLP pilot program in Boston, the senators say, has reduced expensive emergency room visits by 50 percent.

“No one," Bond said, "should be denied the medical attention they need because they cannot navigate the labyrinth of our legal system."  

"Cutting the red tape between doctors and lawyers will not only save money, but by improving public health and awareness, will have the potential to save lives.”