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Healthcare: Study offers solutions that should be embraced

Officials know if they want well-researched, multi-faceted solutions to complex challenges in our state, the researchers at the John Chambers College of Business and Economics at West Virginia University are able to answer. When it comes to actually using those finding to craft legislation or change “the way things have always been done,” the folks in Charleston often lose some of their eagerness.

For more than two years now, COVID-19 has laid bare the problems in our state’s healthcare industry, particularly staffing shortages and access to quality care. So, Ed Timmons and Conor Norris at WVU conducted a study that resulted in a whopping SIX ways to address the problem.

Timmons and Norris argued occupational licensing reduces the supply of available professionals and restricts mobility, helping fuel staffing shortages.

“Occupational licensing laws make it a crime to work in a profession without meeting minimum levels of education and training, paying fees to the state and passing exams,” Timmons said. “…Although they set minimum levels of entry, they also discourage entry and disproportionately impact the disadvantaged. Research documents that occupational licensing raises prices and increases unemployment.”

Medical education was another target, as Timmons recommended changes but “all of this would hinge upon medical schools changing their admissions criteria and accepting the new three-year credential.” That would, of course, put a dent in the hundreds of thousands of dollars they receive as students rack up debt to become medical professionals. Again, the disadvantaged are discouraged from pursuing such an education.

The study also addressed physicians assistants and nurse practitioners:

“Redesigning medical education and allowing PAs and NPs to practice independently consistent with their training will alleviate their shortage,” Timmons and Norris concluded. “Other reforms that encourage telemedicine or make migration between states easier will help underserved populations receive care.”

Such changes for the better require movement (some of which might reduces revenue sources) on the part of elected officials and the bureaucracy. They were willing to make some changes temporarily when a pandemic forced action.

“If it made sense to eliminate the regulation during the pandemic, it is worth considering if the regulation will be necessary moving forward,” Timmons rightly noted.

It goes against their grain, but the folks in Charleston and Washington, D.C., would do well to listen to those who have done the homework, if they are truly interested in doing right by the people they serve.

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