The National Health Law Program (then named National Legal Program on Health Problems of the Poor) was founded by Ruth and Milton Roemer at the University of California, Los Angeles in 1969. It was created as a backup center with a grant from the Office for Economic Opportunity (OEO). As a federally funded backup center, the National Health Law Program was charged with providing support and technical expertise for public interest attorneys and advocates across the country. While our funding structure may have changed over the decades, our commitment to supporting advocates has not.
The model for the National Health Law Program came from the Center for Law and Social Welfare. Larry Silver was the original executive director. Silver then drew up an agenda, figured out what the National Health Law Program would focus on, and began to hire people. The functions of the proposed program were summarized explicitly as:
(1) legal research — as tools for litigation
(2) teaching in the law school and also in school of public health
(3) training lawyers for legal aid service.
“My first memories of the Program involve coming to Los Angeles in August of 1969 to start the Program, which had just been funded by OEO Legal Services. Having been allocated a typewriter and a small space in the Institute for Governmental Relations (in the waffle building on campus), I was really not sure how to get things underway, but I did know from my previous experience with Neighborhood Legal Services Program of the District of Columbia that there were many poor people who were not receiving adequate medical care. Those first few weeks were lonely and frightening. I was the Program’s sole employee, and felt lost fighting the bureaucracy of the University for space, paper clips, and parking spaces!
That the initial focus of the program was on the problems of entitlement to medical services under Medicare and Medicaid and to enforcement of the obligations of hospitals under the Hill-Burton program to provide a reasonable amount of free or below cost patient care was in large measure attributable to the thinking of Ed Sparer, who at that time had joined the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania Law School, and who had been the first director of the OEO Legal Services Welfare Law Center associated with the Columbia School of Social Work.” – Larry Silver, First Executive Director of the National Health Law Program, 1989