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West Virginia was quick to the draw during the COVID-19 pandemic when it came to meeting the health care needs of its residents.
The state’s rural and mountainous geography makes it difficult for many patients to find and access care. So, West Virginia came up with a solution: Remove, at least temporarily, restrictions on the practice of telehealth, allowing more residents to see their doctors remotely using a smartphone, tablet, or computer.
The plan helped isolated patients and those with limited mobility access care. Then, last month, West Virginia enacted a law to permanently expand telehealth services, an important policy reform pushed for by Americans for Prosperity-West Virginia.
Now, states across the country are taking a similar approach to help their residents better access care.
Some went even further. Arkansas, Utah, and Virginia enacted laws reforming their scope-of-practice laws, restrictions which forbid qualified advanced practice registered nurses from delivering care without physician supervision.
These scope-of-practice restrictions didn’t make patients safer. They reduced access to care.
What spurred this flurry of legislation across the country? In large part, the pandemic made health care access a more pressing concern.
“The pandemic has demonstrated the wisdom of removing barriers between patients and [health providers] and elevated it to a whole new level,” Dean Clancy, senior health policy fellow with Americans for Prosperity, told Governing. “What it all adds up to is what we hope will be a transformation of American health care that’s permanently freer and better for everyone.”
Restrictions on telehealth and nurse practitioners were severe impediments to health care access before the pandemic, of course. But when hospitals began to reach their breaking points during the height of the health crisis, states were forced to act.
Twenty states suspended their certificate-of-need laws, restrictions that forbade providers from expanding their facilities, purchasing new equipment, and offering new services without government permission.
Several states, including Tennessee and Montana, are now in the process of reforming their CON laws through legislation.
These reforms provided states the flexibility they needed to treat COVID patients. Permanent reforms will help patients long after the health crisis is over.
Despite the immense success of state-level efforts to make care more accessible, some lawmakers are still claiming that additional federal involvement in medicine is needed, particularly in the form of a public-option health care program and drug price controls.
These are bad ideas that belie the lesson most states learned over the past year. Removing government roadblocks, not erecting them, helped us navigate this health crisis.
Instead of a public option, lawmakers should give patients a personal option, which would reduce costs, promote price transparency, and give Americans more choice over their own health care.
To that end, Congress could:
These personal option reforms, along with the those implemented by the states, would help us through the final chapter of the COVID-19 pandemic, allow more patients to access affordable care, and prepare us for the next health crisis.
Americans for Prosperity is urging lawmakers to give Americans a personal option in their health, but your voice is needed, too. Learn more about the personal option and tell your lawmakers to support these important reforms.