Health care accessibility concerns spark further interest in health law

With the recent actions by President Donald Trump and the Republicans in Congress to replace and repeal the Affordable Care Act, access to health care is a concern for many Americans. This has been a heated debate in Congress, but what is certain is any changes to health care laws and policies will affect millions of Americans.

The Public Health Law and Policy Program (PHLP) at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University has attracted many students wanting to make an impact on health care accessibility through law.

PHLP is a cornerstone of ASU Law’s nationally-ranked health law program. PHLP brings students together with leading scholars, practitioners, and policymakers to address critical issues at the intersection of law, ethics, policy, and the public’s health.

The program explores key public health topics such as emergency legal preparedness, legal tools to curb obesity nationally and globally, policy, and law issues underlying state and local vaccination requirements, and public health implications of the Affordable Care Act.

Sarah Wetter
Sarah Wetter
Being able to participate in these public health topics are why Sarah Wetter, a 3L in the program, among many others come to study at ASU Law.

A key turning point for Wetter was after she completed her internship at the Center for Disease Control Prevention’s public health law program.

“I worked on a summer project on health information technology and exchanges. We looked at all the laws we could find. We looked at jurisdiction laws and compiled about 900 state laws. We compared how states’ laws were promoting or inhibiting the use of their health information technology systems,” Wetter explained.

After months of research and data gathering, she had an epiphany when she co-presented the data with her CDC project manager.

“I was asked to present at the Public Health Informatics Conference in Atlanta; officials from different health departments were really interested in our work,” said Wetter. “At that moment I could see how all the work we did and compiled could translate and help people in the field.”

CDC Presentation
CDC Presentation
Wetter realized that the different types of information could be shared with doctors, insurers, pharmacists, researchers, and emergency health officials and turned into beneficial outcomes and policies.

This also raised privacy concerns. But Wetter found when there were more consent provisions patients were more willing to share the information. These consent decrees gave patients a sense of security and wanted to participate in the system.

“I think there will be a culture shift in how our personal and genetic information is used,” Wetter forecasted. “It will come when people are bought in to the benefits of sharing that type of information in research, medicine and health.”

Graduating in May, Wetter hopes to pursue work in public health law, even contemplating returning to school to receive her master in public health law.

“Going to law school is more than going to work at a law firm. There are many things you can do with a law degree and the impact you can make,” Wetter shared. “I want to model legislation in obesity prevention and control. Make clean food and water more accessible and affordable. I want to make a difference.”