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2005 November - December

Medical Debt

By Chi Chi Wu

Federal and state consumer laws, together with defenses and counterclaims to collection actions, may protect low-income consumers with medical debt from abusive and questionable practices of health care providers and their collection agencies. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act applies to medical debt. Other federal statutes, such as the Truth in Lending Act, the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, and the nursing home reform law, may also offer recourse.

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Using the Media

By Patricia Bath, Elizabeth Arledge & Joe Surkiewicz

Strategic use of the media can be an important part of a legal aid lawyer's quiver of advocacy tools—it can humanize clients, prod officials, and educate policymakers. Every public interest legal program should have a media strategy and develop relationships with local reporters. Following some basic rules in building these relationships can raise the organization's profile, give advocates an opportunity to help frame the way issues are presented in the press, and, most important, benefit clients.

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Civil Rights Action on Combined Sewer Overflows in Indianapolis

By Thomas G. Neltner

When it rains, sewer systems where sewage, industrial wastewater, and storm water combine in a single pipe to be conveyed to a wastewater treatment plant often overflow into neighborhood streams. Sewage in neighborhood streams creates an environmental injustice to residents. In a complaint filed with the Environmental Protection Agency, minority residents alleged that the City of Indianapolis and its mayor violated their civil rights because the City's sewer system had a disproportionate impact on them. Their complaint has yielded various tangible benefits to Indianapolis' minority community.

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The New Bankruptcy Law

Challenge and Opportunity

By David S. Yen & Jeana Kim Reinhold

The Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 makes bankruptcy harder to access even for the "deserving" debtor and less effective for those who are able to file. The requirements to undergo credit-counseling and to supply extensive financial documentation may make timely relief under Chapter 7 or 13 nearly impossible for people in emergency circumstances. Bankruptcy is still available, but filing can no longer be a last-minute decision. Attorneys must embrace the challenges and opportunities of the new law in order to help their clients get appropriate relief.

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Goodbye Medicaid, Hello Medicare

Helping Dual Eligibles Navigate the Medicare Part D Maze

By Patricia Nemore

Medicaid prescription drug coverage will end on January 1, 2006, as required by the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003. Choosing a new prescription drug plan under Medicare Part D may be confusing to the many seniors and disabled eligible persons and the family members who assist them. Assistance will be needed in selecting an appropriate Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plan.

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Win Some, Lose Some

The Rehnquist Court's Final Chapter on Access to Courts

By Matthew Diller, Gill Deford, Jane Perkins & Gary F. Smith

In its final year as the Rehnquist Court, the U.S. Supreme Court continued to chip away at plaintiff's access to federal courts, although the 2004-2005 term brought no blockbusters. The Court declined to treat restraining-order enforcement as property for due process purposes, but it also declined to continue its previous narrowing of commerce clause jurisdiction where marijuana was involved. Regarding Section 1983, the Court rejected amicus United States' argument for a conclusive presumption against Section 1983 and found a private right of action for retaliation under Title IX. The Justices continued to spar among themselves over the deference due administrative agencies.

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