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COVID-19 caught our country off guard and exposed a tragic reality: America’s health care system is standing in the way of medical professionals helping people.
To confront the pandemic, we need to reimagine our entire health care system. Doing so means breaking down the barriers that have long prevented patients from getting the quality medical care.
Removing federal red tape
In the beginning of the pandemic, burdensome FDA regulations prevented Americans from easily accessing COVID-19 tests.
After the FDA eased federal restrictions, more tests entered the marketplace, giving more people the opportunity to be tested. By allowing innovators to do what they do best, the quality of the tests also improved, with results able to be confirmed in less than an hour.
Now, individuals have an easier time getting the answers they so desperately need, at a lower cost than before. Getting rid of these regulatory hurdles also allowed medical researchers to gather more data and learn more about the virus.
States were also quick to act. Many implemented reforms to ensure medical professionals had every possible tool available to them to fight this crisis.
Repealing certificate-of-need laws
Some states, including Tennessee, used executive orders to relax restrictions on certificate-of-need laws to help more people access potentially life-saving medical care.
CON laws prohibit medical care providers from opening new facilities, offering new services, and obtaining new equipment — including hospital beds and ambulatory surgical centers — without seeking permission from a state board.
Adding to this already significant hurdle, a CON permission slip can be spiked by a competitor who files an objection, creating a provider monopoly.
By temporarily suspending CON laws, hospitals and other facilities were able to better alleviate hospital bed shortages and meet the needs of their patients.
According to the Mercatus Center, in Tennessee alone there would be an estimated 63 additional health care facilities, including 25 more rural hospitals and 26 ambulatory surgical centers, if the state repealed its CON laws.
Reimagining health care by eliminating CON laws is an issue that transcends party politics. Elected officials on both sides of the aisle recognize the need to make significant, lasting reform.
Mississippi State Representative and Republican Dana Criswell commented on the need to reform CON laws, saying, “I think the most important aspect of policy that this crisis will force us to rethink is healthcare policies that limit access to care… Specifically our policies on Certificate of Need (CON) laws have artificially limited healthcare for our citizens. Our Department of Health has artificially limited the number of hospital beds available in our state and now they are needed but not available.”
Likewise, Virginia Governor and Democrat Ralph Northam spoke of the importance of lifting CON laws during the pandemic.
“That order lifts our certificate of public need restrictions, so that our health commissioner can give hospitals and nursing homes the authority to add the beds they need without going through red tape… They can act quickly to respond to the needs in this fast-changing situation.”
Ease restrictions on telehealth
Social distancing measures put traditional office visits on hold as a way to slow the spread of the coronavirus. To make sure patients were still receiving vital care, many states temporarily relaxed their telemedicine restrictions.
Instead of regular office visits, patients began utilizing burgeoning telemedicine technology to virtually consult their physicians without putting themselves or others at risk of contracting the virus.
Recently published research has shown that 24 percent of health care office visits, including 20 percent of all emergency room visits could be transitioned to virtual care through telemedicine.
Not only did this help patients receive care at the height of the crisis, it also allowed those in rural areas to gain easier access than before.
North Carolina was one state that lifted outdated telemedicine restrictions during the pandemic and has seen positive results. As Representative Virginia Foxx said in a teletown hall hosted by Americans for Prosperity, “Telemedicine and telehealth have been godsends for us.”
AFP-North Carolina State Director Chris McCoy added, “These folks love it — they feel safer, it’s easy, it saves time, it saves money from the travel. It’s fantastic that we’re getting to that point in health care innovations where we’re able to hopefully do more of that in the future, and do more of it through telemedicine, making it more accessible to people.”
Telemedicine-based home health programs in the Veterans Health Administration, for example, have reduced the rate of hospitalizations by 35 percent by remotely monitoring chronically ill patients and providing timely interventions.
These innovations saved nearly $2,000 for every individual in the program.
Making temporary reforms permanent
If the COVID-19 crisis has shown us anything, it’s that doubling down on today’s bureaucratic approach to health care won’t work.
Fortunately, this pandemic gave us a glimpse of what is possible when we remove hurdles that stand between medical professionals and those they serve.
This short-term progress occurred because we listened to health care professionals who are closest to the problems we faced.
But we shouldn’t wait for the next crisis to make these reforms permanent.
Contact your elected officials and tell them that now is the time to make these short-term reforms long-term solutions.