Area Law Firm Delves Deeper Into Health Care

March 24, 2008
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GRAND RAPIDS — Health care is a huge and growing business that just about every other kind of business seems to want to get a piece of today. But businesses that want to cater to that industry — and do it well — typically need some level of specialization.

Health care is the most heavily regulated industry outside of the defense industry, though it may at some point surpass the defense industry in that respect, said Veronica A. Marsich, chair of Smith Haughey Rice & Roegge’s Health Law Practice Group.

The defense industry receives more federal funding than any other industry, but along with the transfer of federal dollars comes the weight of federal regulation.

“So if you’re going to work with these people, in order to best serve them you have to understand all of the regulations that restrict and control what they can and can’t do,” Marsich said. “I think that’s why you’re seeing all of these different businesses trying to specialize and create a niche in health care, because health care providers really need that.”

Smith Haughey just upped its expanding health care clientele with the addition of the University of Iowa Health Services. The firm’s attorneys are negotiating a contract between a community hospital in Iowa and the University of Iowa’s Health System’s Radiation and Oncology Department to provide cancer treatment at the hospital. The university has relationships with many different hospitals in the community, including this particular hospital, said Marsich.

The hospital would like to secure radiation and oncology services for its patients on an ongoing basis, so it has reached out to the university. The two parties are trying to figure out how — within the federal regulatory framework they operate under — they can develop a partnership that would ensure delivery of those services to the hospital, located a 90-minute drive away from the university, Marsich explained. The arrangement would expand the reach of the university’s health system while providing the community hospital’s cancer patients access to quality radiation and oncology services closer to home. 

The firm provides similar legal services to the University of Michigan Health System. Its work on behalf of health care clients includes the design of partnerships and joint ventures among primary care services, cardiovascular services, cancer treatment services, and ambulatory surgery services. In many instances, the ventures involve partnerships between a hospital and one or more groups of physicians who come together to provide a comprehensive package of services to meet a community need.

More recently, as in the case of the University of Iowa, hospitals are partnering to provide key health care services across greater distances.

“Our responsibility is sort of dually focused: It is to be the corporate lawyer, but the corporate lawyer who understands that you can’t just focus on creating documents that tend to the business needs of the clients,” Marsich said. “You have to also make those relationships fit within the regulatory limitations of predominantly the federal government, though the state does play some role in it.”

Marsich has been with the firm for 15 years, doing work for health care-related clients for 14 of them. But the firm had been serving hospital, institutional and health care clients long before she came on board, she said.

“We did a lot of medical malpractice defense work for clients for years and years and years,” she said, “and our attorneys would periodically get questions from those clients about things that really moved outside of dealing with any specific case and had to do with issues in terms of a medical staff conflict, or some of them would ask questions that were more transactional related.”

Around the time Marsich joined the firm, health care law was just starting to be considered as a specialty practice area. She said that was when Smith Haughey decided to make a commitment to providing its health care clients with a more complete service. The 12-member health law practice group now has a dozen lawyers, many of whom have sub-specialties in health care, such as mental health or Medicare/Medicaid reimbursement.

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