Health Law: Celebrating 10 Years at Pitt Law
Just 10 years ago, health law programs were virtually unheard of in U.S. law schools. However, outside of academic circles, the health care landscape by 1996 had already begun to shift dramatically.
Alan Meisel, Pitt Professor of Law and Dickie McCamey and Chilcote Professor of Bioethics, foresaw the burgeoning impact of health law in the United States, and through his visionary efforts, would go on to found the School of Law’s Health Law Certificate Program—creating one of the first such programs in the country to offer a concentration in health law.
It is a program that would become consistently ranked among the top 15 of its kind in the nation by U.S. News and World Report.
And it is a program that, within the short span of 10 years, would see its students become distinguished practitioners in the nation’s health law bar. Most recently, two of its alumni were among only 12 attorneys nationwide named “Outstanding Young Healthcare Lawyers” for 2006 by Nightingale’s Healthcare News.
Today, the Health Law Certificate Program is a thriving, nationally recognized program with more than 10 dozen alumni. It is a program whose time had come.
Health care constitutes more than 15 percent of the United States Gross Domestic Product—more than any other single sector of the economy. By the mid-nineties, numerous indicators had emerged that pointed to the inevitable growth and complexity of health law. Fraud and abuse issues had come to the fore, with subsequent new legislation enacted, such as the Stark Law and the Anti-Kickback statute. Landmark Supreme Court decisions on right-to-die cases had been handed down, such as Cruzan v. Director, Missouri Department of Health in 1990 and Washington v. Glucksberg and Vacco v. Quill in 1997. And the first phase of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was enacted in 1996.
“So, the stage was set for increased regulatory oversight,” says Kathy Cerminara, ’87, Professor of Law at Nova Southeastern University, Professor Meisel’s initial research assistant on his treatise The Right to Die: The Law of End-of-Life Decision-Making and subsequent co-author of its second and third editions. “Yet, at that time, most law schools had not recognized the importance of health law. There were single courses in health law, but few offered a range of health law courses or a concentration in the field. It was clear that we would need lawyers who could do more than litigate or handle business contracts. The field called for complex transactional work. Yet, such a law school program was still a novel idea.
“It did not surprise me at all that Alan Meisel would step up and create such a program. He is the person who knew where the field was headed and what the developing issues would be. He understood like few others the intersection between law and health in areas such as informed consent and right to die. Professor Meisel is the person who developed the field of end-of-life decision-making—he gave shape to it, wrote the treatise, set forth the principles—and whose work is time and again cited by numerous courts across the country,” says Cerminara.
Indeed, students in the Health Law Certificate Program have always had an extraordinary resource in Alan Meisel.
Founder and director of the Program, Meisel is widely regarded as an internationally recognized authority on informed consent and end-of-life decision-making. His book, The Right To Die: The Law of End-of-Life Decision-Making, is one of the definitive books in the field. Meisel also has served on the staff of the President’s Commission on Ethical Issues in Medicine as well as on the White House Task Force on Health Care Reform. He is Director of the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Bioethics and Health Law and is a member of the University’s Embryonic Stem Cell Research Committee.
“The Program was created to allow students an in-depth study of the dynamic field of health law. The Health Law Certificate Program goes far beyond the standard law school curriculum by providing students with close to two dozen courses in addition to the basic survey course in Health Law,” explains Meisel. “The Program also requires students to have a clinical experience in health law where they either represent clients in the Health Law Clinic or perform an externship in a government, legal services or health care entity. That experience acquaints students with a variety of legal issues that could arise—from complex business and legal transactions to bioethics and patient care issues.”
Open to second- and third-year Pitt Law students, the Program offers a broad range of courses on topics such as Health Law and Policy, Bioethics and the Law, Disabilities Law, Health Care Fraud and Abuse, Mental Health Law and Health Care Antitrust. Students may elect to enter either of the two joint degree programs in health law—the joint M.A./J.D. in bioethics and law or the joint M.P.H./J.D. in public health and law.
In addition to Alan Meisel, other Program faculty include Lawrence Frolik, nationally recognized expert in law and the elderly; Stella Smetanka, supervising attorney of students in the Health Law Clinic; Martha Mannix, supervisor of the Elder Law Clinic; Dean Mary Crossley, widely known for her work in disability discrimination and other civil rights issues in health care settings; as well as several adjunct faculty—leading practitioners in the field with extensive health law practices.
Nathan Kottkamp, ’01, health law attorney at McGuire Woods in Richmond, Va., says, “My training was outstanding. I felt I was well-prepared coming out of the Program and was able to hit the ground running when I began to practice health law.”
Laura Odwazny, ’98, one of the first graduates from the Program and now an attorney in the Office of the General Counsel at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, agrees. “There were many extremely helpful courses in an overall excellent program. One course I particularly remember, Current Issues in Health Law, brought us face-to-face with health law practitioners, learning firsthand accounts of the issues and situations encountered by practicing attorneys in the field. And, of course, I remember Professor Meisel as a tremendous professor who really brought cases to life with his depth of knowledge. His work on informed consent and right to die also brought a meaningful context to his classes, especially his bioethics class.”
The Program’s alumni have gone on to practice in a variety of settings from across the country—in major national law firms, in health care systems, as counsel at health care providers, as lobbyists, and in judicial clerkships. And there are a large number of alumni working at government agencies in Washington, D.C.—from the Department of Labor, to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, to the Office of General Counsel at the National Institutes of Health, to name a few.
Today, for many incoming students, the Health Law Certificate Program is the reason they have come to Pitt Law. Since its inception, the Program has continued to grow—not only in number of students enrolled, but also in the type and number of courses offered and in the scope of its career counseling services.
This past February, in recognition of this important milestone in the history of the Health Law Certificate Program, the School of Law hosted the Tenth Anniversary Symposium, featuring keynote speaker Thomas K. Hyatt, Principal at Ober Kaler in Washington, D.C., who addressed “Tax Exemption and Charitable Health Care Providers.” Panelists at the event included Thomas E. Boyle, member of Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney’s Health Care Law Section; Linda Beerbower Burke, adjunct professor at Pitt Law and a former high-level IRS official; Karl Emerson, Director of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Bureau of Charitable Organizations; and Dean Mary Crossley, whose scholarship has focused on issues of inequality in the financing and delivery of health care.
The symposium was a tribute to this distinguished and nationally recognized Program at the School of Law, as well as to its founder and director, Alan Meisel, who strives to strengthen and develop the Program for the next generation of students.