If the country is serious about reforming the healthcare system, then it needs to look beyond just improving access to medical care. Reforms must acknowledge and address the underlying causes of poor health, many of which cannot be adequately treated by healthcare professionals alone. Indeed, for some 50 million low-income Americans, the barriers to getting healthy represent unmet legal needs better remedied by a lawyer than a healthcare professional.
Unenforced sanitary codes leave families living in unsafe housing where children are made sick by mold, or made sicker by the fact that utilities in their homes have been wrongly shut off. Health system complexities and inefficiencies prevent seniors from benefitting from the insurance and long-term care coverage to which they are entitled, and keep wounded veterans from accessing durable medical equipment such as a wheelchair or other crucial supports. In each of these cases, traditional healthcare services – no matter how expertly administered, and no matter how capable and compassionate the clinician – will not improve individuals’ health. Rather, legal assistance is crucial to negotiate with landlords and utility companies, appeal denied insurance claims and expedite access to veteran benefits and services.