Missouri is inching closer toward the peak of its coronavirus outbreak, and there is still work to be done to ensure the state is ready when that day comes. The priority for policymakers should be ensuring that the state has the resources to provide care for every Missourian that needs it.
Governor Parson has already taken two important steps to prepare Missouri’s health care supply for the coming surge in demand. A little more than a week ago, he waived multiple regulations that were preventing able providers from caring for Missourians. But as my colleague Patrick Ishmael and I have outlined, more action is needed to respond to COVID-19.
The next step is to allow providers to care for their patients to the full extent of their training. For example, if there were a shortage of doctors, and a nurse, medical student, or pharmacist could capably provide a service that had traditionally been delivered by a physician, the law should allow it. Reforming Missouri’s scope of practice laws would expand the state’s capacity to deliver medical services in a crunch. The governor has made some progress on scope of practice issues already by waiving the 75-mile requirement for APRNs and their collaborating physicians, but further steps, like appropriately allowing pharmacists to prescribe some medications, should be pursued.
Policymakers should also consider reducing the government-imposed barriers that are limiting available health care resources. Specifically, Missouri’s certificate of need (CON)laws (laws that require health care providers obtain government approval before opening health care facilities) hamper the response to COVID-19 by making it more difficult to build new (temporary or permanent) facilities. Missouri should follow the lead of the at least 18 other states that have suspended some portion of their CON laws in response to the coronavirus. Abolishing these barriers permanently would allow hospitals or other providers to build the facilities they believe communities need—not just the ones the government says the community should have.
Finally, the public health crisis and resulting economic downturn have highlighted the need for increased access to affordable health coverage. As many Missourians deal with the loss of their employer-sponsored health coverage and other income, it is essential they have access to a range of insurance options. Reforming state regulations on traditional coverage plans and also extending the duration of short-term medical plans would help ensure that Missourians have access to coverage that meets their needs while helping to mitigate financial risk.
Missouri will likely continue seeing increased need for health care resources over the coming few weeks, and there are policy responses that can help weather the storm. Here’s to hoping Missouri’s elected officials rise to the occasion by making the regulatory and legislative changes needed to help protect our state’s residents during this trying time.