As lawmakers and regulators in many states have begun to ease public health orders enacted in March and April to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 to manageable levels, free-market organizations are working together to suggest how emergency rules that liberated patient care can become permanent reforms.
President Donald Trump authorized federal government action to control the spread of COVID-19, commonly referred to as coronavirus, on March 13, declaring a national emergency. Forty-eight governors declared their respective states to be in states of emergency in March, expediting state government assistance and temporarily bypassing regulations for government health care payment programs such as Medicare.
As infection rates have declined across the country, states have started to reopen their economies by gradually rolling back emergency restrictions on commerce and removing stay-at-home orders and other measures.
Problems of Government Control
The COVID-19 crisis demonstrated how government micromanagement of health care harms patients instead of helping them, says Charlie Katebi, a health care policy analyst with Americans for Prosperity.
“There are many laws and regulations intended to promote patient health that lead to less access to high-quality tests, services, and health care providers,” Katebi said. “The result is that the United States had no idea how quickly COVID was spreading through our communities, and health care facilities lacked the capacity to care for large numbers of patients that needed acute health care services.”
Government micromanaging continued throughout the crisis, blocking access to care beyond COVID-19, says Twila Brase, president of the Citizens’ Council for Health Freedom, a national organization based in St. Paul, Minnesota supporting health care choice, and a policy advisor for The Heartland Institute, which publishes Health Care News.
“Very clearly, mandating that nonessential services not take place has put a huge barrier between patients and the care that they need,” Brase said. “I think that a lot of doctors and hospitals weren’t sure how to classify nonessential and essential, and so a lot of hospitals closed their doors to anything that wasn’t COVID-19-related. A lot of clinics closed their doors and weren’t accessible to patients.
“I’ve heard of patients who’ve called the clinic because they needed something, and no one answered the phone, and no one called them back,” Brase said.
Patients were refused vital care such as hormone replacement therapy, pain relief, cancer treatment, orthopedic care, and elective surgery, says Brase.
Katebi says government regulations and bureaucratic delays at the U.S. Food & Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention hamstrung the ability of doctors and medical researchers to identify and stop the spread of COVID-19 before it could establish a beachhead in the United States.
“The FDA’s and CDC’s testing process is one of the major reasons why the United States failed to respond fast enough to the COVID outbreak,” Katebi said. “Prior to the crisis, CDC rules prohibited universities and researchers from developing their own tests for COVID unless the FDA determined that they meet Medicare’s guidelines as a certified laboratory. This process can take months.”
Katebi says medical researchers’ decisions to ignore government rules and prioritize the people’s well-being were instrumental in the development of tests for COVID-19.
“We only discovered COVID-19 had reached the United States once researchers from the University of Washington [bypassed] the law and developed their own test,” Katebi said. “Lawmakers can ensure this fiasco doesn’t happen again by allowing researchers and patients to freely use any test that has been approved in other advanced countries.”
Do No Harm
Now that the threat from the pandemic has diminished, lawmakers should use this opportunity to access what health care policies work and which ones stand in the way of patient care, says Katebi.
“What lawmakers and regulators should learn from this crisis is that any regulation that imposes delays on the ability of a provider or researcher to test or treat an individual could potentially threaten their lives,” Katebi said. “Going forward, these barriers should be permanently lifted at the state and federal level.”
Brase says reducing government meddling in the relationship between patients and their doctors and promoting competition are keys to curing what ails the nation’s health care system.
“The only way we will continue to have excellence in medical care in America is if we get the government out of the way and let hospitals and doctors and competition rule the day,” Brase said. “The ancillary thing lawmakers should learn is how much government gets in the way of medical care being given quickly, efficiently, and with excellence.”
Jesse Hathaway (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a policy advisor for The Heartland Institute.