Did you know that West Virginia’s governor recently admitted that our state’s medical industry is over-regulated, and that empowering the patient-physician relationship is a better solution to crises than putting the government in the exam room?
That’s not how Gov. Jim Justice framed it, of course. But let’s examine the facts.
First, back in March, Gov. Justice signed an executive order to allow greater flexibility for medical professionals in our state to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. The executive order provided more flexibility — and removed, at least partially, the government from our examination rooms and let us balance social distancing needs with existing medical needs.
Second, the Governor’s Office stated that the regulations were “preventing medical providers from best responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and assisting the citizens of West Virginia.” This admission by itself is something that should be celebrated, and it reverses a lot of recent legislative history and messaging that has made doctors out as the bad actors, instead of the government.
Third, the governor and the state Board of Medicine slashed regulations that prevented qualified medical professionals from other states from providing care to West Virginians. These regulations included allowing professionals with recently inactive licenses to provide care, eliminating licensing fees and allowing physicians greater flexibility to partner with other doctors.
Again, not all of these changes are good — but many are. West Virginia had to act, as other states did, to protect our citizens. Slashing unnecessary regulations empowered the patient-physician relationship, removed harmful bureaucracy and gave necessary flexibility to doctors, nurses and administrators who are bravely serving our state’s patients. Essentially, to again quote the governor, many of these regulations were “preventing medical providers from best responding” to the pandemic “and assisting” West Virginians.
As a practicing doctor, I applaud the governor for these actions. I also urge him to make the inter-state license requirements and some of the intra-state licensing requirements permanent and transferable, similar to a driver’s license and nursing licenses. This creates a licensing regime that empowers doctors to come to West Virginia. It also allows doctors to treat more patients in a better way, such as through telemedicine, instead of forcing physicians to bear the financial costs and bureaucratic headaches found in overly restrictive licensing regimes.
This is all important because the next crisis might be around the corner — and our state’s medical professionals must be ready to save lives.
Imagine if West Virginia had more qualified doctors giving more care earlier in the coronavirus pandemic. Imagine how many more lives could have been saved, and how many families could have been protected from the grief and emergencies that have surrounded the lockdowns. We now know that the COVID-19 virus’ impact is minuscule for young, healthy people — but had our state’s medical professionals been empowered from the start, we could have saved more of our at-risk citizens from painful deaths.
And it’s not just about a pandemic. Removing roadblocks to medical assistance helps with the crises Gov. Justice and the medical boards don’t see: the crises that surround a family that watches a family member suffer needlessly because the state doesn’t trust doctors to put patient care first; the crises that surround a person at a remote hospital where doctors are overburdened and understaffed because physicians find the licensing process burdensome, restrictive, nontransferable and extremely expensive.
At the time of this writing, America has lost more than 112,000 people to COVID-19 infections — although, as is often the case with pandemics, those numbers might change up or down as more data becomes available. In the meantime, at least 20 times that many people have been infected, while lockdowns cause serious mental health issues.
Gov. Justice already has admitted that our state’s regulations prevent better care during the COVID-19 pandemic; he should make these temporary measures permanent, to facilitate the highest-quality physician care available to all West Virginians.