Barack Obama’s chief of staff famously explained that one should “never let a crisis go to waste.” Heeding that advice, long-time proponents of government-controlled health care are now claiming the COVID-19 pandemic makes the case for Medicare for All.
But the 50 governors and federal agencies such as the CDC and the FDA are wisely moving in the opposite direction. They are getting rid of long-standing rules, regulations, and laws that slow down America’s response to the coronavirus. Most of these regulations were not necessary in the first place.
Americans for Tax Reform is maintaining a list of government-imposed barriers that have been suspended or repealed due to COVID-19. Here are some of the ways governors are deregulating their states in order to expand health-care access and lower health-care costs.
Suspend Certificate of Need (CON) Laws
Governments used to hand out money to hospitals based on how many beds or medical devices, such as X-ray machines, they owned. So, hospitals wanted many, even if there was no demand.
Lawmakers reacted to this by requiring permits to expand health-care capacity. In the 36 states with CON laws, existing and potential health-care providers are required to get permission from government to establish or expand certain health facilities, equipment, or services.
CON applicants often spend several years and hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to prove that the community “needs” what the applicant is hoping to offer. While CON laws may have sounded like a good idea when they were implemented, they slow down, or even block, access to vital medical care.
To avoid shortages during COVID-19, Govs. Kim Reynolds (R-Iowa), Jay Inslee (D-Wash.), and more than a dozen others have suspended at least some of the CON laws in their states.
Bring Health Care Up to the 21st Century with Telemedicine
At least 10 governors, including Govs. Chris Sununu (R-N.H.) and John Bel Edwards (D-La.), have expanded the use of telemedicine in their states during COVID-19. Telemedicine has alleviated the burden on medical facilities, while also reducing the number of coronavirus cases that would have otherwise been contracted or spread in a doctor’s office or hospital.
Telemedicine is also making health care more accessible to patients, particularly for those in rural areas or who need specialists, as the nearest provider may be several hours away. Decades after the invention of the phone and the internet, one should not have to trudge down to the doctor’s office to ask a question.
Allow Medical Professionals to Practice Across State Lines
Despite the fact that those licensed to practice in one state are just as capable as those licensed to practice in another, state laws make it very difficult for them to help out in areas that may be more overwhelmed by COVID-19. To address this problem, several governors have called for some form of licensing reciprocity.
Govs. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.), for example, are letting certain health-care professionals who are in good standing in states where they are licensed temporarily practice in Colorado and Florida. This is a slightly different approach from legislation that was approved by the Florida legislature last year, which allows medical professionals licensed to practice in other states to provide telemedicine services in Florida without a Florida license.
A driver’s license is good in all states. Professional sports players do not need to prove in every state that they can play baseball or football or basketball. Why do medical professionals need a license in every state?
Expand “Scope of Practice”
“Scope of practice” refers to the activities a practitioner is legally authorized to engage in. Often, these protectionist laws do not reflect a practitioner’s full capabilities.
Physician’s Assistants (PAs) and Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs), for example, are highly trained, thoroughly educated medical professionals who can examine, diagnose, and treat injuries and illnesses. They can prescribe medication and can be primary care providers. Despite this, many states limit their ability to practice by requiring them to have collaborative agreements in place with physicians.
Gov. Tony Evers (D-Wis.), like many others across the country, has temporarily relaxed or suspended these unnecessary requirements during COVID-19. Getting these pointless barriers out of the way will allow PAs and APRNs to fill in where there is need, preventing provider shortages.
Similarly, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.), in his proposed state budget, called for extending the authorization for pharmacists to administer all vaccines that the CDC’s advisory committee on immunizations practices recommends for adults.
This idea should be copied in more states. Allowing people to receive vaccines from pharmacists, who are trained in vaccinations and have a strong understanding for the pharmacology of medicines, would make easier for them to receive the COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available.
Usually, the result of crisis is more government, more government control, and higher taxes. But this time, states have been taking deregulatory actions to avoid overwhelming the health-care system.
Governors and legislators should expand upon these ideas to further eliminate the red tape and protectionist policies that drive up costs and reduce access to health care. And they should make these deregulatory reforms permanent.
Longstanding, destructive regulations are always stupid. But in this environment, the COVID-19 pandemic, they kill.
Grover Norquist is president of Americans for Tax Reform.