Why medical clinics are hiring lawyers to improve patient health

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Several medical clinics across the U.S. are hiring lawyers to help improve their patients' health, according to NPR.

Salud Family Health Centers' clinic, a health clinic in Commerce City, Colo., incorporates legal assistance into its medical practice for patients facing eviction, deportation proceedings, filing unemployment benefit claims or other legal ills that may affect health. The Colorado Medicaid program helps fund the initiative.

The goal of the program is to reduce dangerous levels of stress and help families stay together in an effort to improve the overall health of their improvement. 

The program is one of at least 450 existing medical-legal partnerships across the U.S. that help patients who are impoverished or migrants.

Medicaid doesn't typically fund the legal help at the clinics, but some states have permission to use a portion of their Medicaid funding to support legal assistance programs for their patients. According to the National Center for Medical-Legal Partnership, Medicaid dollars fund these programs in fewer than 10 states.

Proponents of the program, including Angela Sauaia, MD, PhD, a professor at the Colorado School of Public Health in Aurora, argue that legal assistance should be considered part of healthcare.

"You should be referring to them the same way a provider would be referring a patient to a specialty, such as endocrinology or surgery," Dr. Sauaia told NPR.

However, critics of the medical-legal partnership question whether Medicaid is stretching too far with funding these programs. 

"Medicaid is already an immense program with lots of financial challenges," James Capretta, a resident fellow of the American Enterprise Institute, a right-leaning Washington, D.C.-based think tank, told NPR. "The program was not built for Medicaid to pay for too many services beyond the more direct services that are related to a medical condition or a disability."

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