April 1, 2020
By Naomi Lopez

The COVID-19 crisis is rapidly transforming the healthcare landscape—in ways that are devastating while also opening the door for positive long-term reform. In response to current shortages of medical personnel and the expected influx of patients that will only worsen the situation—as well as a way of “insuring” against the further loss of personnel due to illness—some states are removing the barriers that artificially limit the availability of healthcare providers.

Arizona became the first state in the nation in 2019 to allow new residents who are licensed elsewhere to obtain licenses in their new home state. While this applies to a wide variety of occupations, it includes healthcare professionals like nurses, nurse anesthetists, and pharmacists. Now, in the midst of the current crisis, a growing list of states including Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New York, Texas, and Washington are now easing their own licensing restrictions in order to encourage healthcare professionals from elsewhere to practice in their states, bring lapsed or retired workers back into the healthcare workforce, expand the scope of practice for licensed healthcare workers, or transition medical students into the workforce more quickly.

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey exempted certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) from an overly burdensome and optional federal health regulation and expanded the use of telemedicine in the state’s Medicaid program. Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker announced that the licensing of medical school graduates would be accelerated. Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer has removed licensing barriers for some healthcare workers, expanded the scope of pharmacists to help in the response effort, and lifted restrictions on the number of hospital beds. In response to one of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s executive orders that eased licensing requirements in the state, the New York City corps was able to quickly recruit 1,000 more retired doctors and nurses for a total force of 10,000. The New York City Medical Reserve Corps uses state-certificate healthcare personnel in response to disasters and emergencies. In Texas, Governor Abbott has waived some nurse licensing rules that will allow inactive and retired nurses to reactivate their licenses. Nursing students who are close to graduation but have not yet completed licensing requirements will be allowed to obtain temporary permits to practice during the crisis.

During this crisis, states must address the supply side of healthcare. Allowing healthcare professionals to practice at the top of their medical education and training, coupled with the recognition that these professionals do not lose their knowledge and skills when the cross a state border, has always been and will continue to be sound policy.

States like Arizona, as well as a growing number of states across the country, are removing or reducing the artificial barriers that limit the number of skilled healthcare professionals within their borders. These reforms, whether responding to the current crisis or as a matter of permanent policy, are helping to increase the availability of educated and trained healthcare professionals where they are needed most.

Naomi Lopez is Director of Healthcare Policy at the Goldwater Institute.

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