Medical deregulation should survive coronavirus

By | May 19, 2020

The magnitude of the coronavirus pandemic and its disastrous economic consequences have forced federal, state, and local governments, to cut red tape that was previously hobbling medical innovation. The fact that we and our healthcare system can survive and thrive without these regulations is telling and suggests the red tape should not be restored after the coronavirus is defeated.

Byzantine regulations in America’s supposedly private healthcare system have made it harder than even in some overseas state-run systems to bring medicines to market and to harness new technology to care for patients. But the coronavirus has allowed the Trump administration to break down many unnecessary barriers, providing more flexibility for doctors to determine the best means of care for their patients.

Americans for Tax Reform has compiled a list of 500 regulations that have been waived in the fight against the coronavirus, many of them in healthcare. They are a good starting place to look for reforms that could be made permanent.

Social distancing provides a clear rationale for the Trump administration to loosen rules on telemedicine. It has allowed doctors to see patients with video conferencing apps such as Skype and FaceTime, which previously was not allowed. Out-of-state doctors may now treat patients through telehealth. More services can be provided remotely.

This recognizes that modern technology, particularly easy access to video conferencing, makes it significantly easier for some routine medical checkups to be undertaken remotely. There is no reason why that should not continue long-term.

Traditionally, the Food and Drug Administration is a major roadblock to experimentation with different treatments — often treatments already approved by other countries. While it’s important to ensure medicines being used in the United States are safe and effective, the agency has always been all too quick to impose unnecessary roadblocks.

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During the pandemic, it has become far more flexible to authorize tests and potential treatments known to be safe. It has left their use up to doctors, who can make decisions based on clinical experience. The agency also eased rules to accelerate ventilator production.

When the coronavirus first hit our shores, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention maintained a monopoly on testing, and this proved literally fatal, for its tests were defective and failed to produce timely results. Eventually, this regulation was waived. The administration turned to private and academic labs to increase the quantity and speed of tests. This should be the model for future epidemics.

Federal and state regulators have expanded the range of services that can be administered by nurse practitioners and physician assistants. Again, this is salutary and should be allowed to survive the pandemic.

While loosening regulations prompts some fears, the coronavirus is proving that inflexible and sclerotic regulations kill people rather than save them. Our current, dire experiment will help inform policymakers about which regulations to abolish in the near future. We hope that many of the sensible steps that have been taken will remain in effect long after the coronavirus has passed.

Healthcare