Tracing the Changing Contours of Health Law

Tracing the Changing Contours of Health Law

Professor Gabriel Scheffler
Professor Gabriel Scheffler

In today’s society, health care is one of the most important—and contentious—issues. Who can access care? Who pays for services? How do changing laws impact providers? What about regulations affecting technologies like electronic medical records and telehealth services?

Gabriel Scheffler, associate professor of law, wrestles with questions like these in his teaching and research. “With health law, the complexity and sheer breadth of the material are challenges,” he said. “But it’s an endlessly fascinating field. The readings often prompt strong reactions from students, and there is always some aspect of health law in the news. My goals are to introduce our students to some of the most important bodies of law governing the health care system and to give them the tools to practice in this area.”

Path to Miami Law

Growing up in Berkeley, California, Scheffler was interested in environmentalism and the natural world. His interest in the law was sparked by taking a course in constitutional law as an undergraduate at Harvard University. After earning his bachelor’s degree, Scheffler became a research assistant to two economists at the Harvard Kennedy School, where he was involved in projects relating to public sector corruption in developing countries and U.S. health care policy.

Deciding on a career in law and public policy, Scheffler earned his J.D. at Yale Law School and went on to serve as a staff economist at the White House Council of Economic Advisers in the Obama administration, working on health care and labor market policy.

Scheffler then joined the Penn Program on Regulation at the University of Pennsylvania as a regulation fellow and the Solomon Center for Health Law and Policy at Yale Law School as a research fellow before joining Miami Law in 2019. “I had never been to Florida before my job interview here, but I loved the people I met at the university and felt right at home in the community,” he said.

Four years later, Scheffler and his wife, Dr. Elizabeth Bast, a primary care physician at the Veteran’s Administration Hospital in Miami, have two young children and an overly protective mixed-breed rescue dog.

Teaching and Research

At Miami Law, Scheffler teaches courses in Health Law and Policy, Torts, and Administrative Law and serves as faculty advisor for the student Health Law Association. He also serves as the faculty coordinator for the law school’s area of focus in Health Law.

“Decisions by the courts, Congress, and regulatory agencies change the landscape of the nation’s health care system,” said Scheffler. “Health law and administrative law are incredibly important fields for our students, who have many professional opportunities beyond the traditional career paths.”

Scheffler adds that administrative law is a field that raises fundamental questions about values, including democratic responsiveness and efficiency, he said. “It might seem dry, but this is a very active and far-reaching field of law. As others have observed, more U.S. laws are now made by agencies than courts or legislatures: the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, and the fuel for our vehicles are all touched by agencies.”

One of the themes of Scheffler’s research has been the political and economic barriers to reforming the health care system. One of his articles, recently published in the Washington University Law Review, focuses on what he calls the “ghosts” of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act—by which he means the provisions of the ACA that have been repealed, struck down, or scaled back since the law was enacted in 2010. One example is the controversial individual mandate requiring the purchase of health insurance, which still technically exists but is effectively gone, since there is no longer any penalty for noncompliance.

“That’s not to say that the ACA has not been successful or had extremely important effects,” Scheffler said. “But I think we can learn something from these ‘ghosts’ about the kinds of compromises that are necessary to enact important social legislation in the United States today—and how these compromises can make such legislation more vulnerable to repeal or erosion down the road.”

Scheffler’s interest in health law evolved during the COVID-19 pandemic as federal, state, and local governments adjusted rules, regulations, and mandates in response to the dangerous infectious disease. In a forthcoming article, “The Future of Anti-Poverty Legislation,” Scheffler and his co-authors critically assess Congress’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and other recent crises and ask how Congress can make anti-poverty programs more responsive to changing economic and social circumstances.

The solution, Scheffler and his co-authors suggest, is to incorporate what they refer to as “automatic fiscal policies” that adjust safety net programs without action from policymakers based on external conditions. Scheffler and his co-authors write that they envision “a future of anti-poverty legislation where anti-poverty programs are dynamic—not succumbing to policy drift but primed to withstand and adapt to future challenges.”

With many Americans unable to access or afford medical care, Scheffler says it’s vital to pay attention to how the distribution of services will play out in the years ahead. “We need to build a more egalitarian health care system with a strong safety net,” he said. “As COVID-19 demonstrated, a new health crisis could erupt at any time, and we need to be prepared for the future.”

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