The U.S. is relaxing rules for medical professionals working across state lines
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The fabric of the U.S. economy is already changing, perhaps in permanent ways. For instance, the pandemic is calling into question America’s system of licensing health care professionals in one state, but not in another.
Marketplace’s senior economics contributor Chris Farrell explained how states are making changes. The following is an edited transcript.
David Brancaccio: So, what are we talking about? It’s like, if you’re a health care professional, the ability to ply your trade across state lines.
Chris Farrell: That’s right. So both the states and the federal government are lowering these barriers. So let me give you an example: Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, he says that the state can now offer licensed, out-of -state medical professionals a Massachusetts license to practice in that state in one day. Colorado state regulators, they say, if you’re a licensed medical professional, and you’re in another state, you can immediately start working in their state. So they’re really bringing down these state license barriers to physicians and nurses practicing in other states.
Brancaccio: What about the feds in Washington? They also have rules about who can practice and who can’t?
Farrell: Yes, and they’ve been really relaxing a lot of rules and requirements. The federal government is really pushing for telemedicine for telehealth. So this is that you can do some medical conversations, medical diagnosis, remotely and online. And this telehealth option is seen as critical, so that if an area becomes a hotspot, you can tap remotely into health care professionals in other states to provide some services for the Medicare and Medicaid populations.
Brancaccio: Now, if one regards the existing rules that are changing as needless bureaucracy, you can see this as progress. But you know, some of these rules were there for a reason. You don’t want standards to fall.
Farrell: No, you don’t want standards to fall. But there has been this growing sense that so many of these rules are inconsistent, they’re inefficient, they’re arbitrary. And Morris Kleiner, an economist at the University of Minnesota, he says that more than one-quarter of the U.S. workforce now requires a license to do their job, and that’s up fivefold from the 1950s. So there has been this focus, this look, on these licenses, and to what extent are they a barrier to competition?
Brancaccio: And after this coronavirus period, however long that is, will we snap back to the way it was before?
Farrell: You know, I don’t see it. I think we’re at a period of time that that barrier needs to come down. And here’s a classic example of why that barrier needs to come down: If you’re licensed in one state, why not practice in another?
COVID-19 Economy FAQs
Are states ready to roll out COVID-19 vaccines?
Claire Hannan, executive director of the nonprofit Association of Immunization Managers, which represents state health officials, said states have been making good progress in their preparations. And we could have several vaccines pretty soon. But states still need more funding, she said. Hannan doesn’t think a lack of additional funding would hold up distribution initially, but it could cause problems down the road. “It’s really worrisome that Congress may not pass funding or that there’s information circulating saying that states don’t need additional funding,” she said.
How is the service industry dealing with the return of coronavirus restrictions?
Without another round of something like the Paycheck Protection Program, which kept a lot of businesses afloat during the pandemic’s early stages, the outlook is bleak for places like restaurants. Some in the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, only got one week of indoor dining back before cases rose and restrictions went back into effect. Restaurant owners are revamping their business models in an effort to survive while waiting to see if they’ll be able to get more aid.
How are hospitals handling the nationwide surge in COVID-19 cases?
As the pandemic surges and more medical professionals themselves are coming down with COVID, nearly 1 in 5 hospitals in the country report having a critical shortage of staff, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services. One of the knock-on effects of staff shortages is that people who have other medical needs are being asked to wait.
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