While health care is fundamentally a private matter between patients and their care providers, health care and the law intersect in many ways. For instance, health care programs available to low-income and other vulnerable Americans were created through the passage of federal laws. Similarly, health savings accounts that allow patients to use pre-tax income for health care expenses came about through a change in the tax code. Health care and medicine also involve civil law, as in the case of lawsuits targeting the improper marketing of prescription drugs.
FindLaw's Medicine and the Law section addresses the many ways health care is impacted by the law, with articles on doctor shopping laws, the Childrens Health Insurance Program (CHIP), the meaning of single-payer health care, and more.
Prescription Drugs and Doctor Shopping
Certain drugs, including many prescription medications, are categorized as "controlled substances" if they have the potential to be habit forming. These include opioids such as hydrocodone and tranquilizers such as Valium, which often get diverted into the black market or used illicitly.
While those with legitimate substance abuse problems often are given access to treatment instead of incarceration, those convicted of obtaining controlled substances through fraud (i.e. "doctor shopping") often are incarcerated. Similarly, drug makers and distributors that look the other way or otherwise fail to properly protect the public from these drugs also may face criminal charges or civil lawsuits.
Health Savings Accounts
The U.S. tax code allows for the use of pre-tax income for health care expenditures. These health savings accounts (HSAs) are offered through insurance companies, some employers, and most financial institutions and also may be invested.
There are certain limits to what you can pay through your HSA, but unlike flexible savings accounts (FSAs) you may roll over your remaining balance at the end of each tax year. Also, you must have a high-deductible health insurance plan (as defined by the Internal Revenue Service) in order to qualify.
CHIP and Childrens Access to Health Care
The Childrens Health Insurance Program (CHIP) is a federally mandated program administered through the states that covers children in low-income families. Specifically, it's designed to cover children in households whose income isn't low enough to qualify for Medicaid, but who don't earn enough to purchase insurance on the open market.
Depending on how the coverage is procured and the regulations of the particular state, CHIP coverage is either identical (or roughly equivalent) to that provided through most state Medicaid plans.
Single-Payer Health Care
Health care in the United States is a "multipayer" system -- multiple insurance companies and individuals pay for health care services. However, most industrialized nations have what is called "single-payer" health care, in which the government is the sole payer of health care services, paid for through tax revenue.
Advocates for single-payer health care in the United States often refer to it as "Medicare for all," since Medicare is in fact a single-payer system but at a much smaller scale.
Have Questions About Medicine and the Law? An Attorney Can Help
The law intersects with health care in a number of ways, from regulations on what insurance companies must cover to criminal laws prohibiting the unlawful procurement of narcotic painkillers. If you have questions, your best option is to reach out to a local health care attorney.