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A path toward recovery in Mississippi

The spread of the coronavirus pandemic has uprooted many in this country, and all over the world. Kids are at home. The same place many of us are working. If you still have a job at all. Things are being done differently. We watch church online. We use Zoom video conferencing instead of face-to-face meetings. We pick up our groceries and restaurant orders, or we get them delivered to our house.

With time, normalcy in our day-to-day lives will return. Schools will open. Sporting events will come back. Toilet paper will be in stock. And perhaps the way government functions will change as well. Before we have another crisis on our hands.   

Because as the current pandemic crystallized, we witnessed how government regulations often got in the way and stymied the help they are designed to provide. This was true in the past, it is true today and will be true in the future.

Once the coronavirus began to spread, we saw numerous regulations repealed almost overnight. Particularly regulations that limit access to healthcare and seem to do nothing but protect the interest of market incumbents.

One of those regulations is Certificate of Need laws, something the federal government repealed more than three decades ago but they are still on the books in Mississippi. These laws circumvent the normal supply and demand process and require would-be medical providers to prove — essentially to their competitors —that their community needs a new facility or service. And they are one of the reasons we see a shortage of hospital beds during a time of crisis. That is why we have seen both Republican and Democratic governors in other states roll back such regulations during this time. Bills have been introduced virtually every year to repeal CONs in Mississippi, and 2020 was no different than prior years. The issue wasn’t even considered, and it died in committee without a vote or a discussion.

A positive change that we have seen in virtually every state was an expansion of telemedicine, something that is vitally important in a rural state like Mississippi, pandemic or not. And the state has been recognized as an early leader in this technology. Yet that doesn’t mean we don’t have restrictions in place. Almost immediately, we began to see states waive the requirement that you can only use an in-state physician. Mississippi did that. And then just as quickly walked back that change to only allow this if you have a prior patient-physician relationship, greatly limiting your options as a consumer. Mississippians should be able to access the doctor or nurse practitioner of their choosing, regardless of the state they are licensed.

Speaking of nurse practitioners, if we want to increase healthcare access, the state should move to allow nurse practitioners to practice to their full practice authority. Today, they are required to enter into a “collaborative agreement” with a physician if a nurse practitioner wishes to open their own clinic. Particularly in rural communities where we see a shortage of doctors, nurse practitioners could fill that role. If the state would let them.

Another bill that the legislature let quietly die in committee was universal recognition of occupational licenses. Meaning, if you received a license in Tennessee, you can work in Mississippi without jumping through the normal bureaucratic hoops. After all, just because you move doesn’t mean you forget how to practice your skill. To increase the supply or nurses, many states, including Mississippi, said they would allow nurses licensed in other states to work in their state.

This should be standard practice. Not something that requires an emergency declaration. If someone has received an occupational license in another state, the state should recognize that license and allow them to immediately work in Mississippi. We don’t know what the economy is going to look like when the pandemic passes, but one of our main goals should be to make it easier to work.

As we’ve seen, it is the overburdensome government rules and regulations that tend to get in the way. If may be something as serious as healthcare access or as simple as alcohol delivery, another bill the legislature killed this year.

The truth is this happens every day of the year. Rather than waiting for the next crisis, now is the time to roll back regulations that prevent people from earning a living, accessing the healthcare they need, or using technology to make our lives easier and better.

Brett Kittredge is the Director of Marketing & Communications of the Mississippi Center for Public Policy, the state’s non-partisan, free-market think tank.