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Alleviating the Stress That COVID-19 Has Placed on US Health Care

Economists share six means of improving the US health care system

Ed Timmons, service associate professor of economics and director of the Knee Center for the Study of Occupational Regulation at West Virginia University's John Chambers School of Business and Economics
WVU Photo

In a recent paper, economists from West Virginia University (WVU) examine how COVID-19 has strained the health care industry and offer their own expertise on how to address primary care shortages. Since the start of the pandemic, COVID-19 has pushed the health care industry into a stranglehold of staffing shortages and poor access to quality patient care. This has forced some policymakers to take measures to ease the burden.

Economists Ed Timmons and Conor Norris identified six ways to address health care shortages, ranked from most to least effective:

  1. Changing medical education
  2. Expanding physician assistant (PA) and nurse practitioner(NP) independence
  3. Federal regulation of telemedicine
  4. Expanding the interstate medical licensing compact
  5. Special telemedicine licensing
  6. National licensure
Connor Norris, research analyst for the Knee Center for the Study of Occupational Regulation at West Virginia University's John Chambers School of Business and Economics
WVU Photo

Said Timmons in a WVUToday article: “COVID-19 has been very costly, but if there is one silver lining, it has prompted some rethinking of the many health care regulations.”

Since the pathway to a medical degree in the US is costlier and longer than in other countries, the economists’ first proposed reform would bring the US in line with countries such as South Korea, Australia, and Ireland. This would bring the time spent in school from 10 years down to six. “It would be great if interested students could complete a three-year credential for medical school,” Timmons said.

The second proposal would allow PAs and NPs to practice more independently. Many States have regulations and restrictions in place that prevent nurse practitioners and physician assistants from practicing to their full training and potential. “Redesigning medical education and allowing PAs and NPs to practice independently consistent with their training will alleviate their shortage,” Timmons and Norris concluded.

By incorporating all or some of these recommendations into US health care, the researchers believe that medical student debt could be lowered, primary care in rural and underserved areas could be improved, and general primary care shortages can be addressed.