Wyatt, Tarrant and Combs
When Charles Key was a teenager, he was inspired by his family physician. “I thought what he was doing was an inherently good thing,” Key recalls. “I looked into medicine, but it was not for me. It didn’t suit my talents.” Instead, after a post-collegiate stint at the Missouri Department of Health, Key decided to get into what was then a newly emerging profession. “When I came to Memphis wanting to practice health law, people were asking, ‘What is that?’”
Now, three decades later, Key is a partner at the prominent legal firm Wyatt Tarrant & Combs, one of 20 attorneys the firm devotes to the practice of healthcare law, a field that he says touches all of our lives.
“We are all consumers of healthcare. We are all patients. Even the doctors, nurses, and hospital administrators are patients just as you and I are. And they have the same problems.”
The news has been abuzz for the last few years with the ongoing story of healthcare reform in America, but Key says that really, everything old is new again. “I did a presentation for a group who asked me to talk about the current health reform legislation—Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act, whatever you want to call it. I called my presentation ‘A Century Of Change’. From about 1910 forward, we have had nothing but change in healthcare. The biggest change, in the memories of people now living, was in 1966 with the advent of Medicare. Things before that were much different. It was a cash-based system. People paid for their healthcare out of pocket. Some people had BlueCross BlueShield coverage, but a good portion of the population in 1965 had no health insurance. When Medicare and Medicaid came onboard, things changed enormously. The cost-based reimbursement system fostered tremendous growth in the healthcare system from 1966 to about 1983, then they changed the way Medicare pays for things to what is called the prospective payment system, which was the next big change.”
Key says that the ongoing economic recovery has been a double-edged sword for the healthcare industry. “There are increasing costs and declining reimbursement for a lot of things that doctors and hospitals have been relying on historically. Again, it spells change and adaptation. How do you position yourself to do things that are better compensated? We hear about it all the time, but primary care is so challenging from an economic standpoint. Seeing enough patients in a day to pay the bills and make a living is very challenging to primary care physicians. And yet it’s so important for all of us. Primary care doctors direct our care into the next levels of the system. So as a result, you’re seeing hospital systems acquire primary care physicians in order to manage the entire system as a whole more effectively.”
To keep up with the industry’s legal needs, Wyatt, Tarrant & Combs has recently added attorney Elizabeth O’Keefe. Key says that when he learned O’Keefe would be joining the team, “I was delighted. I have known her for probably 10 years. We worked together on the editorial board for the American Bar Association’s health law publication, The Health Lawyer. Elizabeth has excellent experience throughout the system. She’s been in-house counsel, and served in other law practices as well.”
Key says that the future of healthcare looks a lot like the past: a continual evolution. “There’s a lot in the news about the Affordable Care Act, and there’s been a lot of change in the field of health insurance. But there hasn’t been a lot of change, really, in the way that healthcare services are provided. At least not yet, but we see it on the horizon. We’ve just begun to take the steps necessary to improve healthcare. It’s a difficult system to navigate as a patient. I think we’ll see more improvements over time to make it easier to access the system to get the care we need, as well as changes to make it easier and safer to provide that care.”
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