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From Penn Law to the front lines of health reform

December 17, 2013

A commercial law firm’s generosity, a timely social issue, and the University of Pennsylvania Law School’s strong ties to the Philadelphia public interest community have landed Joline Price L’12 in a position to ensure that the chaotic rollout of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) doesn’t harm low-income Pennsylvanians.

Price, who graduated from Penn Law in May of 2012, is working as a staff attorney at the Pennsylvania Health Law Project (PHLP), a statewide public interest law firm that advocates for improved health care for underserved populations and provides free legal services to Pennsylvanians having trouble gaining access to publicly funded health care. Laval Miller-Wilson L’95, also a Penn Law graduate, is the Project’s Executive Director.

Price’s position is being funded through a postgraduate fellowship provided by Langer, Grogan & Diver PC, a Philadelphia-based law firm specializing in complex commercial litigation. The fellowship in social justice is one of several offered by Penn Law to place graduates in nonprofits and government agencies, where they can gain practical experience and make professional connections to launch careers in public interest law.  

“Part of what I do is making sure that lower-income people are not being denied the health services and insurance they deserve, either through public benefits or through the new marketplace,” Price said of her work at PHLP. “My fellowship was designed with the idea that there are so many changes coming with the ACA there is a need for lawyers who can make sure those changes don’t negatively impact lower income individuals.”

From her vantage point on the front lines of ACA implementation, Price says it’s “too soon to tell” whether the new law will achieve its goal of providing healthcare access to millions of Americans for whom insurance coverage has been out of reach. “We’ll all have to wait and see, but one of the things I’ve seen in the two months I’ve been at PHLP is that the law provides us with another thing we can tell people,” she said. “Previously, we’d have to tell many helpline callers looking for health insurance, ‘You’re out of luck.’ Now we can say, ‘You can go to the marketplace and see what kind of plans you’re eligible for, which could be affordable for you because of the tax credits and cost-sharing reductions.’”

Under the ACA’s eligibility provisions, people whose income is between 100 and 400 percent of the federal poverty line qualify for financial assistance with insurance premiums. In addition, people who earn less than 250 percent of the federal poverty line – individuals earning approximately $2,400 a month – also qualify for financial assistance with, co-pays, coinsurance and deductibles. “The law helps people who need health insurance; it means they won’t have to wait until they’re so sick they have to go to the Emergency Room and then incur crippling debt,” she said.

Price, who grew up in El Cerrito, California, in the San Francisco Bay area, followed a personal path to public interest law.

After graduating from UCLA in 2007, she went to work, through a Jewish service corps called Avodah, as a community organizer in Chicago, working with homeless and formerly homeless individuals, among others, to advocate for access to health care.

“Two things from that experience drove me to law school,” she said. “One was that I really enjoyed thinking about ways to use the law, or create new laws, to correct injustices. I loved the strategic planning aspect of what we were doing. At the same time, I wanted to help members of my community who were struggling in their lives address their day-to-day needs as well.”

After a sojourn to Israel, Price enrolled in law school at the University of Minnesota, before transferring to Penn Law in 2011.

“I decided to come to Penn because of its wealth of pro bono programs,” she explained. “Also because the student public interest community, while somewhat small, is a real community. There were definitely people who were with me, who embraced me when I came in as a transfer student, and who provided a cohort to me.”

While she had worked on health care issues previously, she didn’t pursue health work in law school, in part because there were so many other pro bono opportunities to explore. That included work with the Custody and Support Assistance Clinic (CASAC) and the Guild Food Stamp Clinic, both long-standing Penn programs housed at Philadelphia Legal Assistance.

“At CASAC you work with several clients a week to help guide them through the family court system. It was a crash course for me in direct client work,” she said, adding that her work with the Food Stamp Clinic “was a good entry point to understanding the public benefits system and how that gets navigated.”

As a law student, Price, who received an award for extraordinary pro bono service and graduated magna cum laude, also worked in the Criminal Defense Clinic. Her interest in pursuing a postgraduate fellowship in health arose, in part, as result of her involvement with the Journal of Law & Social Change, where she was Executive Editor. The last article she edited, “Abortion Coverage and Health Reform: Restrictions and Options for Exchange-Based Insurance Markets” sparked an interest in the workings of the ACA, which led her to PHLP.

“PHLP appealed to me because of its focus on making sure that low income, disabled, and elderly people have access to health insurance,” she said. “Quality health insurance is key to wellbeing because it affords you that access point to getting the medical care you need to stay healthy and get treatment. Being insured also helps to prevent the medical debt that is possible if you go to the hospital and are uninsured. It really will help people to stay alive.”

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