Right now, much of the country's attention is focused squarely on Washington DC and on healthcare reform. No matter your political opinion of the bill that just passed the United States House of Representatives late last night, one thing is clear: new laws regarding your healthcare are likely on their way. That bill (which can be downloaded in PDF format here) is very long, very complicated, and may change many things about the way you receive healthcare coverage. One thing is clear: having affordable access to legal services will be as important as ever.
The more the law changes and the more comprehensive and complicated it becomes, the more people without adequate access to the legal system risk being victimized by the law -- regardless of how well-intentioned those laws might be. In a recent national study conducted by The Legal Services Corporation, less than one in five of the legal issues facing low-income legal consumers ever receive attention from a private or legal aid attorney. The study concludes that a likely reason for this is that low-income legal consumers often don't realize the legal implications of some of the issues they face and therefore do not seek assistance, even in the rare instances when it may be accessible to them.
As you find yourself adrift in a sea of political rhetoric about healthcare reform, don't forget that access to your legal rights can have every bit as much an effect on your life and your health as access to healthcare. So get engaged in the process of reforming the legal system. After all, while healthcare laws may be about to change, the unmet needs of legal consumers remains sadly constant. And whether you have to fight an insurance company, a doctor, or the Government, or even if you just need to know how the new laws may affect you; having access to effective and affordable legal services may be just what the doctor ordered.