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Access to Health Care is a Health Justice Issue

posted on Wed, Apr 25 2018 11:01 am by Network for Public Health Law

As we prepare for the 2018 Public Health Law Conference featuring sessions focused on health justice, Network attorneys reflect on their work and what health justice means to them.

Q&A with Jane Perkins, Senior Attorney, The Network for Public Health Law — Southeastern Region Office.

Q: What made you decide to go into public health and what impact do you believe laws and policies can have on public health?  

A: Over the years, I have focused on working to improve access to quality health care for low-income people and people with disabilities.  As such, I’ve worked quite a bit with government programs, such as Medicaid, and civil rights laws, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act, section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, and title VI of the Civil Rights Act.  I can say without question that individuals’ ability to enforce these laws in court when they are being harmed by ongoing violations has been vital to public health.  One example is lead poisoning. While the problem obviously persists (as Flint illustrates), a nationwide class action lawsuit resulted in the lead screening and treatment standards that apply to low-income children enrolled in the Medicaid program.

Q: What are some of the key issues or initiatives you’ve been working on at the Network?

A: I work on health reform and maternal and child health.  Under health reform, as might be expected, the Affordable Care Act has been front and center. I have been involved in a number of webinars, presentations, blog posts, and technical assistance requests on a range of ACA issues.  With respect to maternal and child health, I have focused on early intervention services, school-based services, lead poisoning, and oral health. Much of that work is generated by the comprehensive coverage requirements of the Medicaid Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnostic and Treatment benefit and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Q: How can laws and policies make an impact in those areas?

A: Laws are at the heart of health reform and maternal and child health for low-income people. They cannot afford health care; thus, an adequate social safety net is critical.

Q: Are there other opportunities (laws and policies in other areas) to address important health issues in these populations?

A: Other opportunities with these laws: They are a patchwork quilt sewed over decades.  As a result, there is overlap and pieces are missing. It is important to be mindful of this situation and work to address it so that health insurance coverage can be a seamless part of daily life for everyone.

Q: Has your thinking about the role of law and policy in public health changed at all since you’ve been working at the Network?

A: My thinking about law and policy has only been reinforced while I’ve been with the Network.

Q: What is the most important thing that we as a nation could be doing with regard to public health policy?

A: At this point, I think the most important thing we could be doing as a nation is to work to put aside partisanship, the unwillingness to compromise, and the notion that facts do not matter.  We need to strive for comprehensive coverage and access to health care and avoid harmful backtracking in health insurance programs such as Medicaid. Medicaid should maintain its role as health insurance and not be re-assigned as a welfare program only for the worthy poor.


2018 Public Health Law Conference — Health Justice: Empowering Public Health and Advancing Health Equity
As part of our work on issues like access to health care, we are dedicating the 2018 Public Health Law Conference to programming that examines how laws and policies both impede and advance health justice.

We’d like to hear from you! 
What does “health justice” mean to you? Your feedback will help guide our programming for the year and will inform our planning for the 2018 Public Health Law Conference.


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