Discovering Health Law and Health in All Policies

By: Jobena Hill, Spring 2018 HeLP Legal Services Clinic Intern

The Public Health Institute defines the “Health in All Policies” initiative as a “collaborative approach to improving the health of all people by incorporating health considerations into decision-making across sectors and policy areas.” The purpose of this meaningful approach to policy making is to ensure that the policy developmental process is informed by the health consequences of the various policy options. Over the past couple of months, I have come to understand and appreciate the concept of Health in All Policies and how it relates to the lawmaking process, and the practice of law in general. Prior to learning about Health in All Policies, I never truly considered the health implications of policies that were not easily identified as health related, such as transportation or zoning.

Prior to this semester, my narrowly tailored approach to examining policies also extended to my perception of the Health Law Partnership (HeLP) Clinic. When I initially heard about the HeLP Clinic, I thought, “No thank you, I’m not interested in practicing health law.” I perceived health law as one particular thing, fighting with the hospitals and health insurance agencies regarding health coverage—or at least something along those lines. Now, as a HeLP student, I see firsthand the wide range of representation that we provide for our clients and the spectrum of legal issues that fall under health law. The HeLP Clinic uses a combination of legal and medical resources to provide legal services to families referred to us from Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. These services often include assistance in obtaining medical benefits for disabilities, addressing housing issues, and implementing Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) to meet the additional needs of school-aged children.

By creating a space that encourages collaboration between medical students and law students, the HeLP Clinic’s legal interns are able to better navigate through the medical records of their clients. The additional information that we receive from the medical students allows us to make a more informed decision about the different strategies we may take in advocating for our clients. Additionally, the medical students are able to get a glimpse of the legal side of a variety of medical issues that they will likely treat in the future. Their experiences with these cases provide them exposure to some of the background issues that often lead to medical issues and will, hopefully, inform their patient evaluations and care.

So, I guess I was correct, the HeLP Clinic is indeed a health law clinic. However, I now understand that health law is not what I initially thought. Health law is an extension of Health in All Policies; it cannot be narrowly defined because it touches everything. My studies and experiences over the last year helped me develop skills that better equip me to look at policies through a Health in All Policies lens, and to also understand the health effects of the legal issues my clients face. I appreciate that my work in the HeLP Clinic provides me hands-on experience with addressing multiple legal issues and allows me to collaborate with medical students on ways to advocate for the needs of my clients. I am glad I decided to step outside of my comfort zone and into the HeLP Clinic, and encourage any law student to do the same, regardless of their area of interest.