Every day seems to bring more headline news about the coronavirus pandemic and its effects on our well-being. In the past several days alone, we’ve learned that the number of COVID-19 cases in Missouri has reached roughly 7,000 — with the death rate around 300. Recently released state data shows that the unemployment rate jumped from 3.5 percent in February to 4.5 percent in March — likely just a sliver of the full scope of the economic fallout. And this just last week, the White House released a framework to get the economy moving again.
So far, much of the response to this crisis has been, understandably, reactive. The Trump administration has laid the groundwork for states to battle this crisis, and Gov. Mike Parson has taken critical steps to protect Missouri residents’ health. Now it’s time for our legislative leaders to roll up their sleeves and pass meaningful, proactive reforms that will help put Missouri on the front end of a true recovery.
One of the biggest opportunities we have right now is in occupational licensing reform. Companies that have been deemed essential are in desperate need of workers, especially in health care. Not only should Missouri waive occupational licensing fees for the year, but any unnecessary barriers that block qualified workers from filling an essential role — including many unnecessary scopes of practice restrictions — should be removed. Restrictions, wait times, and large fees do nothing but slow down businesses in a crisis, keep patients and consumers from vital services, and restrict workers from earning a paycheck.
Several options exist for boosting the flow of qualified medical professionals into the state, including virtually. Parson issued as an executive order that temporarily allowed access to physicians from other states, including through telemedicine. With cases continuing to climb, this allows individuals to access medical experts regardless of their location. It is our hope that this order will eventually be made permanent and extend beyond just doctors. Physicians, nurses, therapists, and other medical professionals in good standing from other states should be able to offer care to people in need without jumping through hoops or expecting patients — including seniors and those with disabilities — to travel long distances.
Additionally, the legislature can take steps right now to protect the health of those who’ve lost their access to employer-sponsored health insurance. Prior to this crisis, the Trump administration took action to enhance access to short-term health insurance plans. These plans are oftentimes more affordable than traditional COBRA options and allow individuals to bridge the gap between coverage with an appropriate amount of coverage to meet their families’ needs. But to fully realize the benefits of short-term plans, Parson will need to waive restrictions on short-term plans and work with the legislature to update laws to allow for full short-term plan flexibility. While many Missourians may find themselves in need of a short-term option right now, this need exists under normal circumstances, as well.
The benefits of changing the health care landscape in Missouri to increase access to qualified providers and provide for more affordable coverage options go far beyond just responding to the coronavirus pandemic. But these reforms, if passed in isolation, will fall short of the optimal response that’s available to us. We must also embrace reforms that break down barriers to work and provide assurances for individuals waiting to return to their job if we hope to secure a roaring economy once again.
Getting Missouri through this pandemic will require dynamic leadership that’s willing to target both health care and the workforce. If our leaders are willing to embrace these proven, free-market solutions, we will do more than just recover from the coronavirus pandemic — we will thrive.
Gregg Pfister is a government affairs director at the Foundation for Government Accountability. Patrick Ishmael is the director of government accountability at the Show-Me Institute.