Across the country, leaders at the federal, state, and local levels are doing their part to help respond to the COVID-19 outbreak.
This kind of leadership in the government and the private sector is critical. But, so too are the steps taken by the Trump administration and state governments to remove obstacles, cut red tape, and stay flexible to help states and the private sector respond.
On Jan. 31, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar declared a public health emergency in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
These declarations have been used before to respond to natural disasters, like hurricanes, tornados, wildfires, and earthquakes, as well as public health crises like the opioid crisis. The declaration has also been used for virus outbreaks, such as Zika in 2016 and H1N1 in 2009, and provides the secretary with a number of tools to help in response to a public health emergency.
Under this authority, the Department of Health and Human Services can leverage funding and waive certain federal requirements in response to a public health emergency.
In addition, Azar also initiated an emergency use of the declaration that gave the Food and Drug Administration emergency authority to respond to COVID-19 by accelerating access to equipment and tests.
On March 13, President Donald Trump further expanded the emergency response to the coronavirus by declaring a national emergency.
Under that national declaration, HHS can waive certain requirements to better serve patients on Medicare, Medicaid, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program and can expand communication options between providers and patients during this emergency.
For example, using the president’s declaration, the administration was able to waive certain requirements for providers and states.
It was also able to expand telehealth benefits for Medicare beneficiaries, waive enforcement of cost-sharing requirements for telehealth services, and give health care providers broader telehealth platforms to connect with patients.
At the same time, governors and legislators have taken action to respond. All governors have declared either a state emergency or a public health emergency, and 13 states have taken advantage of the additional federal emergency waivers to respond to their state’s needs.
Some states have expanded access to health care providers by relaxing certain provider requirements. (See, for example, Colorado, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Texas, and Washington).
Some states have taken steps to remove barriers to telehealth. (See, for example, Alaska, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Texas).
Some states have also taken action to increase hospital capacity by lifting or removing restrictions. (See, for example, Connecticut, Maryland, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, and Texas).
State policy experts have also weighed in to provide state elected officials with ideas and recommendations. The Buckeye Institute and the Texas Public Policy Foundation, for example, have released action plans for their states.
Removing obstacles, cutting red tape, and staying flexible allows the private sector to do its part.
Private enterprise is leading the way in the development of a vaccine and increasing supply. Partnerships with the states, like in New York and Indiana, are accelerating access to testing, while volunteer health care providers and telemedicine are giving patients critical access to care when they need it. Many more examples are sure to come to light.
Lessons for the Future
Everyone is looking forward to getting back to “normal.” Once this crisis is behind us, we can expect—rightfully—a lot of analysis of our country’s response to this public health crisis.
One lesson: early signs show that the key to success includes the government, both federal and state, removing obstacles, cutting red tape, and staying flexible for private sector innovators.
Therefore, before going back to “normal,” maybe policymakers at the federal and state level should consider maintaining these principles and policies moving forward.