On April 21, 2014, Governor Nathan Deal signed SB 352, a bill codifying medical-legal partnerships in the state of Georgia. The new law gives the Georgia Department of Community Health authorization to approve medical-legal partnerships that comply with standards and guidelines for the purpose of determining eligibility for grants. Georgia is the second state after New York to endorse medical-legal partnerships and create a process for certifying programs within the state.
The original bill was drafted by the Health Law Partnership (HeLP) in Atlanta. Students in the year-long Health Legislation and Advocacy class at Georgia State University’s College of Law undertook the project of researching medical-legal partnerships and drafting proposed legislation and collateral educational materials.
HeLP did not have to look far for a legislative sponsor. One of the three students working on the project was State Representative Trey Kelley (R-16), who having come to the class with no experience or knowledge of MLPs, quickly understood their utility and affirmatively sought permission to sponsor the legislation. When the original bill did not move the second chamber, Rep. Kelley moved to attach it to SB 352.
The law defines medical-legal partnership as a program conducted or established by a nonprofit entity through collaboration pursuant to a written agreement between one or more medical service providers and one or more legal services programs, including those based within a law school, to provide legal services without charge to assist income-eligible individuals and their families in resolving legal matters or other needs that have an impact on their health. Medical-legal partnerships that comply with the standards and guidelines and that demonstrate the ability and experience to provide high-quality, patient-centered legal services that impact health shall be approved by the department.
Passage of this bill is an important step in nurturing existing programs and in establishing new medical-legal partnerships in Georgia. As long-term sustainability is a critical challenge for all medical-legal partnerships, a long-term advocacy goal is to create reimbursement mechanisms for MLP services provided. A state certification process is an important first step in that process.
The law takes effect July 1, 2014. The Health Law Partnership will participate in drafting the implementing regulations.