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Hope for Ohio's Social Services through House Bill 7 in Promoting Medical-Legal Partnerships

Updated: Sep 26, 2023

By: Kezia Ofosu Atta, Policy Assistant, Groundwork Ohio

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Did you know that in addition to meeting the health care needs of their patients, medical staff can partner with legal service organizations to aid in accessing legal needs? This can be the future of health care in Ohio if House Bill 7 becomes law. House Bill 7 was introduced by Representatives Andrea White (R-Kettering) and Latyna Humphrey (D-Columbus) to promote a holistic approach to health care for pregnant women and children, focusing on meeting needs that contribute to healthy outcomes.

One approach includes a partnership between health care providers and attorneys known as Medical-Legal Partnerships (MLPs). MLPs link the expertise of health care providers and legal professionals to address legal issues that adversely affect the health of patients. Legal Aid and other legal service organizations can assist patients in achieving better health outcomes by providing them with the necessary legal services to address issues involving housing, food insecurity, public benefits, and education. MLPs also help mothers and children connect with legal service providers during their health care visits, making it a one-stop shop for accessing needed legal services.

Transportation access, knowledge, and affordability can prevent families from accessing legal services, even when they need them the most. Having medical staff linking families to legal services is an effective and convenient way to holistically meet the needs of families. Stressors such as domestic disputes and housing instability can trigger various health issues that lead many individuals to health care providers, not attorneys. Additionally, trust built between health care providers and patients can enable patients to accept recommended legal assistance when medical providers see fit.

“Addressing the social determinants of health like poor housing conditions and food insecurity leads to better birth and health outcomes,” said Susan Jagers, the Director of the Ohio Poverty Law Center. “Expanding the reach of these partnerships will help provide needed legal services to more low-income pregnant women and children.”

Studies show that when people have access to critical legal services, their mental health improves and they are less likely to be hospitalized. Many Ohioans living in poverty do not know that in certain circumstances, they qualify for free legal services. According to the Legal Services Corporation, there is a “justice gap” in our legal system. Expanding Medical-Legal Partnerships will bridge this gap as they found “92 percent of low-income Americans do not get any or enough legal assistance.”

Additionally, the National Center for Medical Legal Partnership released a review in 2013 evaluating the importance of such partnerships in "addressing social determinants of health for vulnerable populations.”

Many individuals leave hospitals still needing legal services and House Bill 7 will enable partnerships that foster various wrap-around services to help families gain those necessary medical, legal, and social services.

On June 6, 2023, the bill passed out of the Family and Aging Committee with a 13-0 vote and is currently progressing to the Rules and Reference Committee in the Ohio House of Representatives. To track this legislation and learn more about the potential of this partnership, please visit the Ohio Legislature and the National Institute of Health. Please contact your local state representatives urging them to pass this bill.


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