Attorney tapped to chair committee to review Michigan Public Health Code

By Cynthia Price

Legal News

Based on a mandate from Governor Rick Snyder, the director of the Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH), James K. Haveman, has formed a committee charged with reviewing the Michigan Public Health Code.

Haveman has called on someone he has known for a long time, Lawrence P. Burns of Varnum LLP, to lead the charge in making recommendations on the almost-600-page health document, Act 368 of 1978.

Haveman, who also headed MDCH from 1996 to 2003, is from the West Michigan area. Comments Burns, "Jim and I have worked together closely over the years, including when he was with Kent County CMH [Community Mental Health] and Bethany Christian Services. I've always considered him a friend, and he and I have talked periodically over the years."

For his part, Haveman stated, "The appointment of Lawrence Burns as chairman of this important advisory committee was a natural fit... Mr. Burns' track record makes him an ideal candidate to lead this group and we're eager to see the results of their work."

In Snyder's special address on Health and Wellness in Sept. 2011, he stated, "Although there have been a significant number of amendments of the Public Health Code, many of the requirements... are now over thirty years old. A number of provisions within the code are outdated and there are new issues that should be addressed... [N]ew technology may not be acceptable under the current Public Health Code... For example,... there is no discussion in the Public Health Code of electronic records and no provision for electronic communications or telemedicine... After 33 years, it is time to revisit how we regulate health care in Michigan. I propose that we undertake a comprehensive review of the Michigan Public Health Code."

Burns is particularly well-qualified to head up the committee, as the chair of Varnum's health care law practice, which serves a wide variety of clients in the health care and life sciences industries.

He received his B.A. and M.A. from University of Notre Dame, and his J.D., cum laude, from the University of Toledo College of Law.

He has been honored over the years, including listings in Michigan Super Lawyers (2011) and in The Best Lawyers in America® since 1993. His community activities include serving on the Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital Institutional Review Board, and on Saint Mary's Health Care Emeritus Board.

A member of the Michigan Health and Hospital Association Legislative Policy Panel, he has an interest in policy and in the relationship of the Public Health Code serving as a "very effective tool" with the potential need for changes to make it even better. "It's really interesting to me," he says. "I've been working in the health law area for close to 30 years. My use of the Public Health Code is almost on a daily basis." He said he is "honored" to serve as chair of this "excellent committee of professionals, each with a unique perspective."

Burns acknowledges that even a committee as broadly constituted as this one cannot have all the in-depth knowledge required for a through review. He intends to propose that the committee solicit input from stakeholders inside and beyond MDCH electronically in order to meet proposed deadlines.

"I think that in this day and age with the 'mighty pen' of email we can instantaneously reach hundreds of healthcare stakeholders," Burns says. "But we'll discuss that with the committee when we meet - figure out what's the appropriate vehicle or template to solicit the input."

The committee will meet for the first time on Aug. 16. Burns hopes that they will be able to make recommendations to MDCH Director Haveman and the governor by early 2014. He notes, "I think that's doable depending on the promptness with which we get comments from the stakeholders, and I think the stakeholders are probably well versed in the issues and well positioned to provide comments quickly."

Also serving is Dr. Jean Nagelkerk, the vice provost for Public Health at Grand Valley State University. She comments, "Serving on this committee provides the opportunity to review the code and make recommendations for changes to better reflect the health care environment and care needs of our citizens. The quick timeline is important as the code has been in existence since 1978 and our communities' health care delivery systems and payment models have changed significantly. It is an honor to serve on the Interprofessional Advisory Committee to work collaboratively to assist with reflecting the integration of health care education and clinical best practices in the code recommendations."

Act 368 is designed "to protect and promote the public health; to codify, revise, consolidate, classify, and add to the laws relating to public health; to provide for the prevention and control of diseases and disabilities; to provide for the classification, administration, regulation, financing, and maintenance of personal, environmental, and other health services and activities; to create or continue, and prescribe the powers and duties of, departments, boards, commissions, councils, committees, task forces, and other agencies; ... to regulate health maintenance organizations and certain third party administrators and insurers;" and to set out many other regulatory and coordination actions.

"Our general charge is to try and assess whether there are any areas of the current code that are outdated or not up to par with current developments in the health care industry," Burns said. "We're not going in assuming that everything is broken, but we're going to rely on the valuable stakeholders out there, from physician assistants to anesthesiologists, who understand how it affects their particular line of business."

He indicates that the first order of business, other than some structural considerations, is likely to be developing a set of criteria for evaluating those stakeholder comments.

But Burns is confident that the advisory committee members will be able to meet all of the challenges they face to come up with sound and comprehensive recommendations. "Overall, I hope that what we might recommend would be good for the providers and have a positive impact on the quality of care that's offered as well as the access to care," says Burns.

Published: Mon, Jul 29, 2013