As the newly signed COVID-19 relief bill, known as the American Rescue Plan, expands the Affordable Care Act and steers us toward more centralized healthcare, we must look to states to consider a different way forward: one that will lead to lower costs and more accessible health care in our country.
The year 2020 will go down in the history books as a year of disruption, loss and innovation. However, the little-known story concerns the massive steps states have taken to save lives and livelihoods by deregulating and expanding their healthcare delivery systems. States were in the best position to make a difference quickly because they were closer to communities and people who needed help over the past year.
Since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic in March 2020, at least 40 states have taken steps to expand access to healthcare to ensure that we can tackle this virus head-on. The reforms included removing regulations and expanding access to telemedicine, allowing physicians to practice across state borders and suspending Certificate of Need (CON) laws that limited increase in hospital beds and necessary medical equipment.
These actions had a real impact during the most vulnerable hour of our country. According to the Associated Press, health care providers such as the Cleveland Clinic were seeing an average of 5,000 visits per month before the pandemic. In April 2020, this number increased to 200,000 visits. State-level healthcare reforms have helped hospitals like the Cleveland Clinic cope with the overwhelming demand during this crisis.
Telemedicine, for example, dramatically increased the number of patients healthcare professionals could see on any given day. All of us have now probably experienced the convenience of this innovative technology. At the start of the pandemic, I had a medical problem that I would normally have visited a doctor’s office for. Instead, I spoke to a doctor remotely and within two hours received the prescription I needed. A study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention evaluating telemedicine during the pandemic suggests that the increase in telemedicine use caused by the pandemic could have long-term benefits, especially when it comes to the use of services emergency.
Additionally, Alabama, Connecticut, New York, South Carolina, Vermont, Wisconsin and several other states have taken executive action to allow doctors to cross state borders during the pandemic. One image that will forever be etched in my memory because of the pandemic is a photo of a group of medics on a Southwest Airlines flight to New York. At the time, this city was at the height of the pandemic, with medical staff working non-stop in overcrowded hospitals. These doctors were heroes flying at the heart of the coronavirus epidemic in the United States. However, few people realize that the only reason these doctors – and many more like them across the country – were able to go to help was because New York City removed licensing restrictions that prevent doctors from being able to attend. practice in other states.
Reforms like these have taken place across the country. But there’s a catch: While these reforms have transformed our healthcare system, most of them have expired or will expire as states remove their state of emergency orders.
As vaccines become more readily available and the pandemic becomes more manageable, we must learn the lessons of 2020 and work to create a new path forward. State legislatures should make these life-saving reforms permanent. Expanding telemedicine, allowing physicians to practice across state lines, and removing CON restrictions that prevent hospitals and physicians from accessing needed equipment is not just good policy during a pandemic; it’s a good policy all the time.
Once again, states are taking the lead. More than 20 states are considering legislation to ensure the sustainability of these reforms beyond this crisis. We cannot lose the momentum we gained in 2020. Better, lower-cost health care for all Americans is at stake. Americans must look to states, not Washington, DC