The Impact of Recent Policy Changes to Public Health Law

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In recent months, the present status of and limitations facing the U.S. health care system have become clearer than ever before, with current and proposed public health laws thrown into sharp relief. Even before the novel coronavirus outbreak reached pandemic levels, there were many initiatives underway to improve public health.

Government agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration have adjusted their rules in accordance with evolving scientific knowledge to keep people safer and healthier. This is an ongoing process that can save lives on a mass scale, and its importance is amplified in a world that has witnessed the effects of COVID-19.

Why Is Public Health Law Important?

Even before the pandemic, the health care system was facing the strain of an aging populace and the attendant challenges. A large percentage of the U.S. population belongs to the aging baby boomer demographic. As this populous generation reaches an age when there is more need for them to receive long-term and intensive medical treatment, care providers need to find ways to help everyone without being overwhelmed.

Preventive and proactive efforts regarding population health are essential parts of reducing the number of patients who need hospital care, enabling those facilities to focus their efforts on fewer cases. Everything from healthy-living initiatives around diet and food availability to regulations surrounding the use of tobacco and related products falls under the general definition of public health law. Lawmakers, advocates, researchers, medical professionals, lawyers and more stakeholders all contribute to such efforts.

What Are Some Recent Changes to Public Health Law?

In the years leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic, agencies such as the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have taken part in various initiatives designed to add healthy provisions to state and federal law. These wide-ranging efforts reflect the evolving nature of public health crises and opportunities around the U.S. and all over the world.

For instance, the Network for Public Health Law (NPHL) highlighted efforts to make safe foods available for free to schoolchildren whose families may not be able to afford nutritious meals. Hunger is a major public health concern — both on its own and because a balanced diet is one of the most effective countermeasures against other serious health conditions. Changes allowing the creation of organized food sharing programs in schools could help more children eat well and grow up strong.

The NPHL has also taken part in the CDC’s efforts to battle opioid addiction. Between prescription abuse and illicit drug use, opioids’ impact on the U.S. population has reached epidemic levels. State public health law related to safe prescribing and monitoring is an evolving area, with local administrations comparing efforts to protect populations from opioid deaths. Legal changes include increased access to drugs such as naloxone and stricter registration around writing prescriptions.

The FDA’s legal oversight of tobacco products has also seen some major changes in recent years. The most significant piece of such legislation came Dec. 20, 2019, when the buying age for tobacco rose from 18 to 21. The FDA effectively restated its power to legislate all tobacco and nicotine products, including e-cigarettes. The government body is also in the process of clarifying its rules around cannabis derivatives such as CBD.

What Is the Likely Impact of COVID-19 on Public Health Law?

In the years ahead, the single largest topic regarding law and the public’s health will doubtlessly be the reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic. The actions taken during the crisis have included using emergency legislation such as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act of 2020 to ensure public health organizations have the funds to create accurate maps of the virus’ spread, and creating guidelines to keep infection rates from expanding out of control, tailored to specific communities.

One of the lasting impacts of COVID-19 on public health law may be an easing of the rules around telehealth. Insurance regulations regarding video health consultations are evolving day by day, as the Center for Connected Health Policy indicated. The coronavirus crisis may force state and federal lawmakers to consider enabling new technological solutions sooner than they otherwise would have.

How Can You Prepare for a Job in Public Health Law?

You can approach careers in the relevant and evolving fields of federal and state public health law from multiple points. Public health lawyers may work for law firms or on staff at care providers. In addition to lawyers, there will likely be an increasing need for experts in health care law within departments such as nursing and health care technology. The NPHL pointed out that medical-legal partnerships are key to resolving health issues through legislative means.

To prepare yourself for such a highly specialized role, you can build your knowledge base through an advanced degree. The online master’s in health law and policy from Hofstra University equips graduates with essential information from both sides of the health law divide to prepare them for impactful careers at the intersection of the legal and medical worlds.

Visit the program page to learn how to get started earning an online HLP degree.

Recommended Readings:

What is health care law and why is it important?

Eight Bioethical Issues to Know About


Network for Public Health Law – Strategies and Opportunities for Strengthening Community Health through Medical-Legal Partnership – Public Health Collaboration

Network for Public Health Law – Impact Report 2019

Food and Drug Administration – Selling Tobacco Products in Retail Stores

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – HHS Announces CARES Act Funding Distribution to States and Localities in Support of COVID-19 Response

Center for Connected Health Policy – COVID-19 Telehealth Coverage Policies