With the number of coronavirus cases rising, hospitals overworked, and families across the country staying in their homes, fear and uncertainty are understandable feelings. As we all embrace this temporary new normal, now more than ever state leaders need to be assuaging fears by providing more flexibility for the workforce and medical industry, and they need to be laying the foundation for a post-coronavirus recovery. Here are five things states can do right now:
#1: Expand access to health care & health insurance
Flattening the curve has slowed down the number of cases and lessened the burden on our hospital system, but the burden is still there. The medical community needs flexibility to treat patients, expand their equipment, and provide information to families—and the government needs to get out of their way. If states want to expand access to care, they should allow telehealth across state lines, without a face-to-face visit first, for all providers, not only physicians, and they should allow employers to more easily provide telehealth services to their employees. States can also suspend Certificate of Need (CON) laws so medical facilities can be created or expanded to meet the short-term demand.
On the insurance side of things, states can open Association Health Plan (AHP) options for small businesses to help with their recovery, give employers access to claims information, provide price transparency, allow access to high-value providers even when they’re out of network, and protect patients with substantial medical bills who are in payment plans before their finances are ruined.
#2: Support doctors, nurses, and pharmacists
Our medical professionals are on the frontlines combatting this outbreak, and they need a break—a physical one, because they’re working long hours, but also a break from carrying the burden of government regulation. During this time of crisis, states should allow hospitals to hire qualified medical professionals and allow retired medical providers to reactivate their license for in-person care and telehealth. These medical professionals should also be able to use the full extent of their training, by granting pharmacists flexibility to keep prescriptions available for patients that need them and by suspending scope of practice restrictions. Finally, states can loosen the requirement for Continuing Medical Education (CME) by granting credits for health care professionals battling COVID-19.
#3: Manage fragile state budgets
The outbreak and subsequent shuttering of business across the country has resulted in an unprecedented number of unemployment filings. It’s important for states to manage their fragile budgets by ensuring that funds are available for those who are truly needy. One way to do this is by conducting unemployment system cross-checks to help keep unemployment insurance trust funds solvent. Another way is to enhance the integrity of welfare programs to ensure those resources are preserved for the most vulnerable.
#4: Remove barriers to work
Millions are out of work or furloughed, and flexibility should be granted to those employers who need to hire. There are several ways states can achieve these goals, including waiving occupational licensing fees for one year, postponing continued learning requirements, expediting apprenticeship program approvals, commercial truck flexibility, and holding businesses harmless on their unemployment taxes.
As people stay home, it is critical that regulations keeping them from earning a living while social distancing be considered for removal. These include flexible work rules that make it possible for certain industries to function remotely, including customer service, and expanding opportunities to start a home business.
#5: Ease the financial burden on families
Loss of income and potentially high medical bills have families worried about the future. State authorities are in a position to alleviate many of their concerns by extending the tax and property tax deadlines, vehicle registration and inspection deadlines, and the validity of expiring driver’s licenses. States can also allow churches and community spaces flexibility to support their neighbors, waive regulations blocking hunting and fishing, and suspend parking violations that do not impede access to emergency services. If we want people to distance themselves socially, it’s imperative that government loosens restrictions to make it easier for people to stay home—not in line for government services.