What is health care law and why is it important?

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There are many possible areas of specialization in the field of law. Health law, in particular, is a popular career area, given how pervasive health care is in the average person’s life. Specializing in health law can be a fulfilling and prosperous choice ― but what’s it all about?

Learning About Health Law

In simplest terms, health law consists of the rules and regulations that affect all entities involved in the health care industry, according to the American Bar Association. Health law governs the relationship between patients and their providers, as well as other parties such as vendors, to ensure all groups receive fair treatment under the law. Health care is regulated on a national, state and local level, and as a result, the nuances of health laws and policies can be difficult to pin down due to the differences between jurisdictions. However, health policy at any level can be discussed in broad strokes.

Health law is dictated by the policy set by the applicable jurisdiction. In general, the purpose of health law is to protect patients and providers from unfair or unsafe practices, including fraud and abuse by either party. It not only dictates the legality of procedures and practices in a clinical setting but also addresses the legality of any operations by vendors or other third parties whose work impacts the health care industry.

For example, pharmaceutical companies fall under the purview of medical law, and aspects such as quality control, testing and pricing are all affected by relevant legislation. Medical employment regulations are also important to health care law ― these determine the legality of labor practices and serve to regulate unethical and dangerous behavior at all levels of employment. Whether determining a hospital’s culpability in regard to real estate compliance violations or prosecuting cases of medical malpractice, practitioners specializing in health-related law cover plenty of ground.

Why is health law important?

Notable legal issues in U.S. health care include how to make medical care more affordable, ethical and accessible. Government programs like Medicare and Medicaid are successful thanks to health-related laws. Initiatives like these, which are often the result of major legislation being passed, make various health practices and services available to patients who qualify. In addition, any provider or vendor that offers services as part of these programs must abide by regulations that determine prices, availability, benefits and other requirements. Without strong health care protections for patients being enshrined into law, government programs like this would not be able to function.

Whether provided by the government or a private organization, medical care needs to meet certain standards to benefit patients as much as possible. Health law empowers individuals to make informed medical decisions and not fall victim to unfair practices, such as overpriced treatments or medications. Health policy determines how insurance companies can function in relation to their customers: National, state and local governments can make the treatment of certain ailments mandatory under any health plan, for instance. The law determines the practices that are acceptable for doctors and other medical professionals. Stipulations that mandate informed consent or set minimum stay lengths for acute care go a long way toward making sure that the average citizen gets the care they need and deserve.

That’s not to say that health-related laws only help patients. Medical professionals, providers and vendors can all benefit from medical law. Dangerous substances can be kept out of the wrong hands ― and resources distributed appropriately ― thanks to anti-fraud laws. Detailed information on medical expenses can assist insurance companies in managing their customers. Of course, medical staff benefit too ― they don’t have to work unreasonable hours thanks to fair labor laws. And health law helps them through even the toughest parts of their jobs ― for instance, the law helps guide the steps they take and protects them from liability (to an extent) in the event they are involved in end-of-life care decisions.

How do you get into health law?

However, the field of health law is not just for lawyers ― doctors, nurses and other medical professionals can all benefit from a deep knowledge of health law and its nuances as it relates to their job. To start a career in any area of law as an attorney, however, students must first obtain a bachelor’s degree. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics states that there are no specific undergraduate degrees that need to be pursued to become an attorney ― as long as the degree is from an accredited institution. That being said, degrees in subjects including English, economics and history are sure to be useful to prospective lawyers.

Those looking to build a career in health-related law as an attorney would be wise to take elective classes in various medical subjects, such as health care administration or management. After earning an initial four-year degree, most students prepare for the Law School Admission Test. The LSAT tests people on their logical reasoning, verbal intelligence and mathematical skill. The more successful you are on the LSAT, the more likely you’ll be admitted into a prestigious law school. Once you pass the LSAT, you can enter law school. Health care attorneys will need a Juris Doctor (J.D.) to practice law and become full-fledged members of the American Bar Association, which means roughly three additional years of schooling.

Hofstra University offers two online graduate-level programs for working professionals seeking to specialize in health law and policy. The online Master of Laws in Health Law and Policy program is catered to those already holding a J.D. and looking to specialize in the field of health law. The online Master of Arts in Health Law and Policy program is designed for those already working in health care and other fields, and requires prospects to hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution. To see if these programs are right for you and your career path in health law, speak to an enrollment advisor today.

Recommended Readings:

4 Careers to Consider with a Master of Arts in Health Law and Policy

What you can learn about bioethics and the law


Lawyers – Bureau of Labor Statistics

Health Law – American Bar Association