Right now, Texas and the rest of the United States is experiencing an unprecedented upheaval in how we go about our daily lives due to COVID-19. It is uncertain what the next day will look like and when we might all be able to go back to our normal schedules.
Another area that is experiencing an unprecedented upheaval is the amount of government regulations being temporarily set aside at the local, state, and federal level. Government officials and policy makers are advocating for many industries to forego onerous regulations that make access to the market difficult for businesses and consumers.
The medical field is being deregulated so physicians can connect faster and more effectively with patients, both those affected by the virus and those with other issues. While spurred by the current pandemic, these changes should become permanent if they prove to make practicing medicine more effective for both physicians and patients, and if they establish that in the absence of regulations, the worries about health or safety proved unfounded.
This successful deregulation—though temporary—could soon prove the regulations themselves were unnecessary all along, and only existed to create a larger bureaucracy, which ultimately undermines the physician-patient relationship.
A 2017 a report by the American Hospital Association found that health care systems, hospitals, and post-acute care providers must comply with at least 629 federal regulatory requirements, which collectively costs the American health care market $39 billion annually. On average, this is an annual cost of $7.6 million for an average-sized community hospital.
Across the country, the federal government and states have lifted regulations to allow more physicians to enter the health care systems. In order to meet the needs of those enrolled on Medicare, Medicaid, or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), President Trump is allowing states to apply for a 1135 waiver that allows out-of-state physicians to work on Medicare, Medicaid, and CHIP patients in a state other than the one in which they are licensed in currently.
In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott directed the Texas Medical Board and the Texas Board of Nursing to fast-track approving temporary licenses for out-of-state physicians, physician assistants, retired physicians, and nurses to assist in treating COVID-19. This temporary regulation change hopes to bring in more medical professionals and applies to telemedicine licenses as well.
The governor also waived the telemedicine requirement that a physician must meet with a patient in person before beginning treatment, protecting both the physician and patient from unnecessary exposure if the patient has been inflicted with a different ailment.
Another way Texas can increase access to patients is by lifting the regulation that restricts physician dispense. Currently, physicians can only dispense medications if there is no pharmacy within a 15-mile radius of their practice. For those who are experiencing a cold, strep throat, or need relief from seasonal allergies, it would be more convenient, safe, and concurrent with the encouraged social distancing recommendations if individuals could receive prescribed medications during their appointment with their primary care doctor or physician.
The Texas Public Policy Foundation released a Recovery Agenda on March 19 to assist federal and state policy makers in considering which regulations might be waived quickly to combat COVID-19. Many of the ideas presented involve lifting burdensome regulations to mitigate any access issues businesses and consumers may experience as limited shutdowns are implemented.
Both President Trump and Gov. Abbott have made tremendous strides in assisting citizens, as we all navigate what life is like under COVID-19. The positive effects of deregulating the health care industry can show how those in the system and the marketplace do not need protectionist measures in order to achieve the safe, quick, and effective delivery of care.
Looking beyond this pandemic, policy makers remember how effectively the system worked—without the overregulation—when we needed it most.