Medical-Legal Partnerships Fighting Health Care Costs

Last week, Marketplace had a story about a medical-legal partnership that is helping to reduce the cost of health care in the U.S.

The innovative partnerships—which are popping up around the country—are hiring “attorneys to help fight illness and disease among the poor.”

Poor families, with no alternative, bring their sick children to the emergency room. Not only is this about the most expensive way to get healthcare, the conditions that bring impoverished kids back to the ER again and again are often preventable. Ellen Lawton is executive director of the Medical-Legal Partnership for Children at Boston Medical Center.

Marketplace describes how the partnership can help, “Say a disadvantaged child lives in an apartment with a leaky pipe. The landlord refuses to fix it, even though the leak is causing mold, and mold can trigger respiratory problems.”  The partnership then makes the situation officially legal and forces the landlord to act.

Dr. Barry Zuckerman of the Boston Medical Center explains the value of the partnership to the hospital:

So our lawyers, by helping out the patients, actually also accrues value in dollars to the hospital, because in many cases they can find that such-and-such a condition was covered, and the hospital should be paid for the services that was provided to the patient.

The partnerships are quickly expanding (now number over 80) and are targeting the problems of patients at a variety of ages with a variety of conditions.  The medical-legal partnership may have created strange bedfellows but it’s proving positive outcomes.  Are there other partnerships that could help us attack health care’s issues?  Local government?  Other non-profit agencies?  Business?  We can, and should, all work together to solve our many issues.

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