The COVID-19 pandemic has caused over 100,000 deaths, millions of lost jobs, and – according to a recent Census Bureau study – massive levels of clinical depression across America.
But the world’s worst pandemic in a century has a silver lining for America’s medical patients: streamlined state and federal bureaucracies which have given doctors like me greater ability to improve our patients’ health and even save their lives.
Back in February, things looked dire. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s testing kits didn’t work. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was sitting on its hands, denying private sector entities the freedom to begin developing tests and vaccines, and producing more of the critical medical supplies which soon began to run short. In the meantime, the curve rose and people started dying.
Eventually, the FDA removed its foot from the neck of America’s medical developers, doctors, and patients. Testing went from hundreds of people per day to tens of thousands. Critical medical supplies were produced. And America began flattening the curve.
States likewise acted to reduce burdensome and harmful regulations. My state of Kansas temporarily allowed licensed out-of-state doctors to provide necessary telemedicine advice. This had the triple effect of creating greater patient-physician access, reducing the potential of infections, and saving patients money and time as our economy sank. Governor Laura Kelly’s decision to ease telemedicine restriction also helped doctors like me serve our patients far better than we ever could during pandemic-induced lockdowns.
The originally slow pace of government action in response to the pandemic was disheartening to tens of millions of Americans, including physicians. However, the temporary reduction of harmful restrictions gives me hope that Americans can prevail upon our elected officials to enact permanent reforms to provide better care for patients.
One place the federal government has already begun reducing deadly red tape is through the Right to Try legislation passed by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump. This 2018 measure gives the FDA authority to allow certain patients with life-threatening conditions the opportunity to fight against disease and death by testing treatments with certain drugs which are going through the approval process. Drug and treatment approval rightly takes years under normal circumstances; but people with mere weeks or months to live should have the opportunity to find unusual solutions.
The type of public-private partnership which gave Right to Try the chance to succeed is what has helped to flatted the coronavirus curve. Temporary licensing, manufacturing, and development measures produced innovative American solutions to the worst pandemic in a century. As bipartisan governors have noted, these measures were enacted because bureaucracy was costing lives.
Pandemics grab the public’s attention and drive government responses – but my patients regularly face private medical challenges. These everyday challenges will outlast the pandemic, and they require the same type of physician-patient flexibility as COVID-19.
Red tape has many costs to patients in Wichita, San Francisco, and New York – regardless of the color of your state’s politics. My practice doesn’t accept Medicare or Medicaid because we want to focus on care first, not bureaucratic hoops. Our business model saves patients money year-over-year compared to traditional insurance-based health care, but telemedicine restrictions increase costs which come out of patients’ pockets. And my ability to hire qualified doctors is limited by unnecessary inter-state licensing regimes which put money in bureaucrats’ pockets and deny patients increased quality of care.
As the pandemic eases, it is incumbent upon elected officials to enact policies which put the patient-physician relationship first. Right to Try, the bipartisan pandemic deregulation responses, and modern technology show us the path to a safer and medically sound future.