Today is National Doctors’ Day, a day when patients can give thanks for the hard work and dedication of physicians and all those who support doctors such as nurses (who will formally be recognized on National Nurses Day on May 6). People around the globe are more grateful than ever for their physicians this year. During the worst public health emergency in more than 100 years, doctors, nurses, and healthcare workers have risked their lives to treat millions of people infected with the noxious new coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Doctors are logging longer hours than ever and hospitals are rushing to expand their capabilities.
Policymakers can show their appreciation by keeping onerous rules and regulations to a minimum and empowering doctors to effectively treat as many patients as possible. It’s time to honor the more than 1 million doctors and 18 million healthcare workers across America who are at the front lines of fighting COVID-19.
At the time of writing, there have been more than 1,300 coronavirus deaths in the U.S. and about 25,000 fatalities worldwide. Hospitals and doctor’s offices are overwhelmed with the influx of coronavirus patients in addition to patients with a host of other conditions. Doctors are selflessly risking their lives to treat patients. There are countless stories like the Elmhurst Hospital Center which “has in recent days experienced the full brunt of an unprecedented public health crisis: long lines to receive medical care, a chaotic emergency room, supplies and equipment dwindling dangerously low, an overfull morgue, and medical workers themselves contracting and suffering from the virus.” As a result, medical staffing companies such as MDstaffers are reporting 20 to 30 percent increases in demand to match qualified personnel with hospitals seeing an influx of coronavirus patients. Doctors are stepping up to meet that demand, even as government officials waive patient copays and suspend the payment of medical debt.
Politicians, and all federal officials, must continue to support doctors and avoid costly regulations that would slash pay and hamper care across the board. Fortunately, lawmakers decided against putting a “reform” in the recently passed Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act that would have instituted federal price controls (aka “rate-setting”) and would have forced out-of-network doctors to bill patients at deeply discounted in-network rates. These disastrous rate-setting policies were introduced in California, and care access complaints shot up nearly 50 percent. Doctors in the Golden State reported that, since rate-setting’s debut in 2017, doctor’s office and medical facility consolidations have skyrocketed, and doctors are contemplating leaving the state. Doctors and patients have dodged a bullet by Congress not exporting this model nationwide, but policymakers should be on the lookout for future attempts to reintroduce this fatally flawed, counterproductive policy.
Lawmakers at all levels of government must also be proactive in rolling back the red tape keeping doctors from seeing patients. Massachusetts and Florida have already stepped up by allowing out-of-state doctors to offer telehealth services to state residents without having to go through normal state licensure requirements. These changes are supported by federal regulatory authorities, but unfortunately not all states are cooperating in the push to liberalize licensing requirements. According to the Federation of State Medical Boards, states including Arkansas, Michigan, and Minnesota still have not changed their requirements in response to COVID-19 even as millions of their residents are put in harm’s way. States should accept medical credentials from other states without reservation, and work on loosening other restrictions getting in the way of patient health.
Another problem facing providers in this critical time are Certificate of Need (CON) laws, which require government approval for expanding healthcare facilities. For example, healthcare facilities such as Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland still have to obtain state regulatory approval in order to construct new hospital floors and expand operations. While states are typically responding quickly to these CON requests, waiving these requirements altogether can ease the paperwork burdens of beleaguered hospitals and get new hospital additions built faster.
No one regulatory or compensation-based policy will “solve” the coronavirus, but the right set of reforms can make physicians’ lives far easier. On National Doctors’ Day, policymakers can help doctors treat patients and keep the healthcare system working for everyone. Federal and state policies should help, not hinder, the ability of doctors (and medical professionals) to do their jobs.
Catalyst articles by Ross Marchand