Project on Predatory Student Lending Student Saves Client Over $40,000

Via the Legal Services Center 

The Project on Predatory Student Lending recently helped save a client over $44,000.  A problem in his federal student loan consolidation left him with several defaulted loans.  He came to the clinic because he was struggling to repay his loans, and because he did not understand why he still had defaulted loans after his consolidation.

His student attorney, Alison Sher, reviewed the client’s loan records and discovered errors in his loan consolidation process. The client had consolidated his loans in an effort to get them out of default and begin repaying them.  When his loans were supposedly consolidated, several of his loans were improperly excluded from the consolidation.  Two problems arose with the loans that were “left out” of the consolidation.  First, these loans remained in default, leaving the client at risk of the extraordinary collection powers of the federal government. For example, the federal government may seize borrowers’ earned income tax credits and garnish their wages without seeking a judgment in court.  The second problem was that the outstanding balance for these unconsolidated loans was included twice in the client’s outstanding loan totals.

Alison researched, wrote, and submitted a statement explaining these problems to the federal student loan ombudsman, who helps borrowers fix problems that their servicers cannot or will not correct.  As a result, the ombudsman removed over $24,000 in interest from the account, and also removed the erroneous defaulted loans and the interest that had accrued on those loans, amounting to more than $20,000 of additional relief.

Alison also addressed the client’s concerns by ensuring that he understood what steps we took on his behalf and his reduced outstanding balance. She also made sure that the client enrolled in an income–driven repayment plan, so that his payments would be affordable and his loans would not go into default in the future.

Power, Protests, and Problem-Solving

Lisa Dicker, HLS J.D. '17

Lisa Dicker, HLS J.D. ’17

Via the HNMCP Blog

As a first-year law student, I was only a few months into my training in alternative dispute resolution (ADR) when the grand jury decisions on the deaths of Mike Brown and Eric Gardner were announced. I had spent the last several months with Harvard Negotiators, a student practice organization focused on ADR, learning about active listening, relationship-building, and peaceful resolution, but I suddenly found myself in the middle of protests shouting “No justice! No peace!”

I began to question whether I could simultaneously be a student of ADR and be active in these issues. I knew that the methods of ADR are effective in finding solutions to conflict, but I heard the pain and anger around me calling for disruption. Protesters marching through the streets, shutting down buildings, and stopping traffic could not seem further from the negotiation table. I felt like I had a foot barely in both worlds. I had just started my training and scholarship in ADR so I was not fully knowledgeable in that field, but also, as a white female I was certainly not fully knowledgeable of the needs and issues facing affected minority populations. Activism seeks to cause discomfort, demonstrate opposition, and highlight differences while ADR seeks to facilitate a collective approach that focuses on shared interests and goals. Were ADR and activism irreconcilable? Or could they somehow work together to solve these deep-rooted societal issues?

Continue reading here.

Progress on New Jersey Diabetes Legislation

Via the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation (CHLPI)
By Katie Garfield (CHLPI Clinical Fellow, J.D. ‘11)

On Thursday, February 5, New Jersey took an important first step towards the goal of providing key diabetes services to its Medicaid beneficiaries. In a hearing session, the Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee of the New Jersey legislature approved the text Assembly Bill 3460. If passed, this bill will improve diabetes care for vulnerable populations in New Jersey by providing Medicaid coverage for diabetes self-management education (DSME), the Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP), medical nutrition therapy (MNT), and expenses for supplies and equipment for the management and treatment of diabetes.

Several diabetes advocates, including Stephen Habbe (Advocacy Director, Northeast, American Diabetes Association (ADA)), Fran Grabowski (Program Manager, Cooper Diabetes Education Center, Lead Diabetes Educator) and Michael Johnson (Director of Association Initiatives, The Gateway Family YMCA) testified in support of the bill. These advocates explained that, each year, diabetes takes a dramatic financial ($5.4 billion in medical costs and $2.4 billion in indirect costs) and personal toll on New Jersey. These advocates therefore urged the committee to support the inclusion of DSME, DPP, and MNT in the state’s Medicaid program as critical evidence-based diabetes interventions. Committee Chairman and bill sponsor, Assemblyman Herb Conoway Jr. also expressed strong support for the bill and its potential to reduce costs while extending the lives of individuals living with diabetes.

After hearing this testimony, the committee approved the bill to be passed out of committee almost unanimously (11-1). The bill has therefore moved on to the next step in the legislative process—consideration by the Assembly Appropriations Committee—where it will hopefully meet with equal success.

As highlighted in Stephen Habbe’s testimony, this legislation seeks to address some of the coverage gaps identified in the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation’s New Jersey PATHS report. We are therefore very excited to see the bill pass this first legislative hurdle, and we will continue to provide updates on its progress through New Jersey’s State House.

For more information about our work on diabetes policy, visit our new website: www.diabetespolicy.org.

Food Law and Policy Clinic Hosts Workshop on Food Policy in Navajo Nation

CHLPI-Navajo-Nation-Food-02.11.2015Via the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation 
By Kristin Beharry, J.D. ’16 and Rosana Aragon Plaza, LL.M. ’15

Fundamental Navajo law includes the concept of ho’zho’, loosely translated to “balance.” In a workshop hosted by the Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC) from February 9-11, Navajo Nation food advocates described how their current food system is out of balance, leading to environmental, health, and economic challenges among its residents. Over three days, the Navajo advocates and FLPC staff and students talked through strategies to change laws and policies on the federal, tribal, state and local level to improve the food system and gain back this sense of balance. These discussions will play a key role in FLPC’s work to develop a toolkit that identifies the main food policy and advocacy challenges that the Navajo Nation faces today, and strategies to overcome these challenges through policy change. The FLPC has been working with the Navajo Division of Health for the past two years, exploring ways in which Navajo leaders can address health and food sovereignty challenges in the Navajo Nation through food policy change.

In Navajo Nation, healthy food is often costly, difficult and time-consuming to find, while heavily processed, high-calorie and nutritionally poor foods are far more prevalent. The biggest Native American reservation in the United States, Navajo Nation includes large “food deserts,” defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as low-income communities that have “low levels of access to a grocery store or healthy, affordable food retail outlet.” Food insecurity is estimated to affect a staggering 76% of households in Navajo Nation. The lack of fresh, healthy food perpetuates health disparities, as over 40% of the total Navajo population (which stands at over 180,000 people) are overweight or obese.

Continue reading here.

Cyberlaw Clinic Contributes to Report on Intermediary Liability

Case-Study-222x300Via the Cyberlaw Clinic 

The Clinic is pleased to have played a role in preparing a far-reaching new report released by the Global Network of Internet and Society Research Centers and the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, addressing questions about intermediary liability around the world.  The report is a first output of a larger initiative on the governance of online intermediaries.  It consists of:  (a) a case study series exploring online intermediary liability frameworks and issues in Brazil, the European Union, India, South Korea, the United States, Thailand, Turkey, and Vietnam; and (b) a synthesis paper that seeks to distill key observations and provide a high-level analysis of some of the structural elements that characterize varying governance frameworks, with a focus on intermediary liability regimes and their evolution.  Clinical Fellow Andy Sellars helped to support the project overall, and he — along with the Clinic’s Managing Director Chris Bavitz and two summer 2014 Cyberlaw Clinic interns, Nick DeCoster and Michael Lambert – helped to craft the US case study.

The Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation Presents to the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV and AIDS on Alarming Trends in the Health Insurance Marketplaces

pacha-groupVia the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation
By Michael Wysolmerski, J.D. ’16 

On January 12, 2015, I attended the 55th Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA) in Washington, D.C. I attended the panel titled 2015 Healthcare Marketplace: A Review of Essential Health Benefits and Provider Networks. My supervisor at CHLPI, Carmel Shachar, presented on the panel, along with Doug Wirth, President and CEO of Amida Care, Melissa Harris, Acting Deputy Director of the Disabled and Elderly Health Programs Group at the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), and Brian Webb, Manager of Health Policy at the National Association for Insurance Commissioners.

I attended the panel as part of my work as a student in the Health Law and Policy Clinic of the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation (CHLPI).  This semester at CHLPI, I am working on the Speak Up project. The Speak Up project encourages consumers living with HIV to report issues they are having with insurance as the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is implemented to advocates.  Some of the data used in Carmel’s presentation was drawn from Speak Up activities.

The panel was extremely interesting because it demonstrated the difference in effectiveness of care in different parts of the country. Mr. Wirth started the panel with an uplifting presentation about Amida Care, a Medicaid Special Needs Plan for people with HIV in New York City. This Medicaid Managed Care Plan takes a holistic approach to providing HIV care, offering not only standard medical care but also whole person care services such as African dance classes and yoga classes. Amida Care includes a Member Advisory Council, which allows elected members to meet with the CEO, COO, Medical and Pharmacy Directors to make recommendations. Amida Care’s member participation struck me as refreshingly different than a normal insurance plan.

Continue reading here.

Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Tax Begins to Have a Positive Effect

Via the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation
By Kristie Gurley J.D. ’15

It is widely acknowledged that consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) has a negative impact on public health—sodas and juices directly contribute to the obesity epidemic in America, and they can be especially harmful for children (those who drink at least one serving of SSBs per day have 55% increased odds of being overweight or obese). However, how to decrease consumption of SSBs is widely disputed. Some municipalities have considered adopting a tax on SSBs that would deter the purchase of SSBs, and thus the consumption of SSBs. This past November, Berkeley, California, became the first city to pass a “soda tax,” imposing a one-cent-per-ounce tax on all soft drinks.

While the Berkeley soda tax represented an historic victory for anti-SSB voters (they prevailed over a $10 million opposition campaign), it was unclear whether a one-cent-per-ounce tax on SSBs could make a difference at the point of consumption. In late January, voters witnessed an immediate impact: two local “Dollar Tree” stores pulled sodas from their shelves entirely. For a store stocking only products that can be sold for under $1, the tax—which is levied on distribution companies—raised the price of SSBs above the Dollar Tree threshold. Randy Guiler, Dollar Tree’s Vice President of Investor Relations, said the store could no longer cover the tax’s costs on beverages with a one-dollar price tag. The Dollar Tree locations in Berkeley currently stock only water and fruit juices.

Continue reading here.