Dynamic Changes in Healthcare — A Silver Lining for Legal Professionals?

By Robert Half on August 26, 2014 at 7:00am

Demand for expertise in the legal aspects of healthcare is climbing. Not surprisingly, recent healthcare reforms and regulations are fueling legal employment opportunities for lawyers and paralegals needed to manage the legal complexities associated with the healthcare, pharmaceutical and biotech sectors.

One in three lawyers named healthcare as the practice area expected to generate the most legal positions in the next two years in a recent Robert Half Legal survey. And in other research, lawyers said the healthcare practice area will offer one of the greatest revenue generation opportunities for their law firm in the coming years, ranking behind only litigation and general business/commercial law.

A number of factors and circumstances are focusing the legal spotlight on the healthcare sector – as well as generating the demand for legal expertise in this specialized practice area.

Complicated laws command specialized expertise

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is undoubtedly the driving force behind the growing number of healthcare positions for legal professionals.

With any new law, there’s always a need for interpretation — and because the ACA includes more than 900 pages and countless related regulations, companies are turning to lawyers to clarify details and requirements of the law. Employers, healthcare providers and insurance companies have been scrambling to comply with fluctuating provisions, including some changes made since the start of this year. As a result, healthcare attorneys have remained extremely busy in recent months, compelling many law firms to hire professionals with healthcare law expertise.

For now, these legal professionals are helping companies comply with the evolving regulations. But down the road, the ACA will almost certainly lead to legal disputes, creating even more legal career options for attorneys and paralegals with healthcare experience.  

Sweeping HIPAA changes spark demand for attorneys  

When the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) first took effect in 2002, it rewrote the book on how healthcare providers handle the  privacy, portability, electronic transmission, and security of every patient’s protected health information. Last year, the HIPAA Omnibus Rule took effect, bringing changes to HIPAA’s privacy rules. Not only does the new mandate increase patients’ privacy protections, it also grants individuals new rights to their health information and strengthens enforcement of the law.  

While the original HIPAA rules primarily targeted healthcare providers and other companies that process health insurance claims, the Omnibus Rule expands these requirements to business associates of these organizations. Additionally, the rule boosts the penalty for noncompliance to a maximum of $1.5 million per violation. These major changes are prompting many healthcare providers, as well as their business associates (including contractors and subcontractors), to hire attorneys to navigate these more stringent regulations.

Reimbursement disputes create more work for legal professionals  

As the healthcare landscape continues to change, and providers use new methods to bill health insurers, reimbursement disputes between payors and providers are on the upswing. Many of these disputes are settled by attorneys and other legal professionals through arbitration. In fact, the American Arbitration Association reports a double-digit percent increase in healthcare-related cases filed since 2005. Faced with a surge of reimbursement disputes, many healthcare executives are tapping legal professionals to develop customized dispute resolution procedures in legal agreements.

Legal job options in healthcare continue to grow  

As the healthcare field expands and evolves, an increasing number of jobs are emerging throughout the legal profession. Attorneys and paralegals with expertise in the legal aspects of healthcare aren’t just landing jobs in law firms: Many are scoring in-house positions with insurance companies, government agencies, hospitals, biotech and pharmaceutical firms, and more.  

The healthcare field’s growth shows no signs of slowing in the coming years. Consequently, law firms and health-related organizations will likely continue to drive legal hiring of professionals with expertise in this thriving practice area.

What do you think the future holds for the healthcare practice area? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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