Stacey Tovino is not one to shy from difficult subjects.
A lawyer specializing in federal health care regulation, she is focused on bringing to light some of the industry’s most important social and ethical questions that the law has struggled to answer.
“A good portion of my research involves identifying classes of vulnerable individuals, such as individuals with opioid use disorder or individuals with gambling disorder, who fall through cracks in federal and state statutes and regulations that are designed to provide legal protections to patients and insureds,” she said.
Tovino, the Judge Jack and Lulu Lehman Professor of Law at Boyd School of Law, also has taken on issues such as end-of-life care, the use of mobile apps, and the right to privacy. Her work has highlighted the difficulties everyday people face in obtaining fair treatment from insurance companies and the challenges in regulating the industry. And it has led to meaningful change.
“When health insurers in Nevada were refusing to cover treatment for people addicted to gambling, I fought to get the Nevada Division of Insurance make them cover these patients,” she said.
Tovino’s advocacy, scholarly research, and innovative work in building new programs within the law school have earned her national recognition as well as the one of the 2019 UNLV Top Tier Awards, which recognize work that meets the university’s gold standard for research, education, and community impact.
“She is an amazing teacher, productive, prolific, and impactful scholar, and an all-around joy to have at the law school,” said Ruben Garcia, associate dean for faculty development and research. His work in workplace law often intersects with Tovino’s work. “She is a great team player, and definitely one of our stars at Boyd. Her research is interdisciplinary, and really exemplifies our goals as a Top Tier university,” he said.
Tovino, who also holds a Ph.D. in medical humanities, has published 69 major scholarly works, including books; peer-reviewed articles in law journals, medical and science journals, and ethics and humanities journals; book chapters; and encyclopedia entries.
Tovino founded the UNLV Health Law Program, an academic partnership between the law school and the School of Community Health Sciences. She developed the health law curriculum and a created a formal health law concentration, the first-ever curricular concentration at the law school. She built the Health Law Program Advisory Board, which includes 25 local, state, and national experts and leaders with experience in areas and industries critical to the intersection of health and law.
She also created a Health Law Speaker Series that encourages dialogue and provides UNLV community members the chance to meet nationally and internationally recognized experts in areas that touch on health and law.
But where Tovino really shines is in her energetic teaching.
“I want my law students to be able to identify the ways in which current health laws can unfavorably discriminate against patients and insureds based on their age, physical and mental ability, race, ethnicity, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status,” she said. “I work to give my students the tools they need to identify these forms of discrimination and to advocate for positive change.”
In the long-run, Tovino said, she hopes more people begin to understand the connections among health professions, the law, business administration, technology, hospitality, and traditional humanities.
As an example, Tovino cites the challenges of keeping medical data private and secure in the advent of mobile apps and electronic medical files. When the privacy laws around health information were drafted, most health care providers used traditional paper medical records. Those laws were designed to manage moderate privacy and security risks associated with keeping paper files secure.
“Today’s electronic record system and big data analytics show how inadequate these old laws are,” she said. “However, current lawmakers seem unable to respond in a timely manner, in part because of how quickly health information technology changes.”
Similarly, the law and health care industry have been slow to address the opioid addiction crisis, Tovino said, adding that individuals with substance use disorders have been particularly vulnerable to negative judgments in the courts and stigmatization.
“The health care industry faces problems and possibilities that transcend traditional academic disciplines, especially in times of political, social, and technological change,” she said. “Working together, scholars and teachers from different academic disciplines can develop and implement innovative solutions to these problems.”