At Affinity Strategies, we provide association and community management services to health care professional membership groups and patient organizations. We are proud and honored to be able to support the work of our clients as health care providers, researchers, clinicians, and educators every day, but especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. We want to acknowledge our client’s work, putting themselves on the front lines to treat and heal patients, despite often being in risky conditions. It is with the deepest gratitude and appreciation that we try to examine and consider some of the ways your profession has been impacted in the last few months.
Much of the changes to health care and health care systems due to COVID-19 has had to be addressed quickly and swiftly through legislative action. Given the stressors and great need to support healthcare workers and hospitals, we wanted to provide an overview of some of the state-level advocacy efforts that have taken place in the last few months. This update provides a high-level overview of key legislative provisions impacting our clients. If your organization is interested in learning more about any of these initiatives or other key changes happening at the local, state, or federal levels, feel free to contact us for policy and advocacy support.
Uniform Emergency Volunteer Health Practitioner Act.
Legislation to ease restrictions for health care practitioners during emergencies is not an entirely new thing. Back in 2006, due to Hurricane Katrina, Louisiana had to declare a state of emergency and the state faced a shortage of critical health care personnel. Two physicians from out of state who tried to enter Louisiana to volunteer realized there were many barriers in place for out of state-licensed professionals to enter and practice, which was detrimental and slowed critical care from being delivered. Out of that experience, they drafted the Uniform Emergency Volunteer Health Practitioner Act (UEVHPA) and was introduced in states across the country. UEVHPA is a piece of model legislation, meaning it has been vetted and approved and signed on by multiple supporters to encourage its passing. The purpose of UEVHPA is to temporarily remove the licensing restrictions and allow for services and needed volunteers to cross state lines and provide needed aid and care during a state’s declared state of emergency. Volunteers must have licenses in good standing in their home states and participating states must maintain a registration system under which all volunteer practitioners must register. As of 2020, 18 states and the District of Columbia have enacted UEVHPA legislation including: Arkansas, Colorado, District of Columbia, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Washington, and West Virginia (1).
Telehealth and Telemedicine has also been an area where states quickly and deftly modified current laws to allow for greater care and access be given without having to leave the safety of one’s home in the pandemic.
Sixteen states and the District of Columbia have revised their telehealth policies in response to the pandemic to allow for providers to provide care over telehealth and many of the states working with insurance companies to ensure telehealth visits are covered. Arizona, for example now requires insurance companies and health plans to cover out of network telehealth providers and decrease co-pays for telehealth visits. New York allows providers who submit a self-attestation form to provide tele-mental health for people affected by disaster emergency for a limited period of time (2).
The COVID-19 pandemic has also reduced children’s preventive care across the country. Many parents are deciding to delay wellness visits to keep children out of doctor’s offices, some providers reporting a 70 to 80 percent decrease in well-child visits, and far fewer children receiving vital in-person services, such as immunizations (3). Some primary care practices also have limited their services or shut down to comply with mandatory lockdown policies. To ensure children and families can stay safe and receive appropriate care, states are providing new guidance for telehealth visits and relaxing telehealth policies to allow doctors to still connect and access patients safely during this time. Doctors and practitioners have had to react quickly to this changing environment and implement new tools and technologies to ensure patients can still safely access care and connect with their providers.
There are numerous resources to help navigate and understand what your state is doing to address healthcare issues COVID -19, and many solutions and policies are still emerging. The National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL) as of June 5, was tracking 124 bills across the US that relate to just healthcare workforce. To go further in-depth, or to research bills specific to your state, I strongly recommend checking out the NCSL website. If your society or members have any specific advocacy questions, the Affinity Strategies team can help. We stand ready to track legislation, build advocacy coalitions, and help your organza engage politically. If your group is needing advocacy research, bill tracking, or writing policy statements, we are well equipped and ready to put our staff’s experience in health care advocacy and policy to use for you!
- Hentze, Iris. May 26, 2020. “COVID-19: Occupational Licensing During Public Emergencies”. https://www.ncsl.org/research/labor-and-employment/covid-19-occupational-licensing-in-public-emergencies.aspx.
- Enlund, Sydne; Hentze, Iris. March 27, 2020. “Mitigating Health Workforce Barriers During the COVID-19 Pandemic”. https://www.ncsl.org/blog/2020/03/27/mitigating-health-workforce-barriers-during-the-covid-19-pandemic.aspx
- Cooper, Rebecca. May 11, 2020. ” States Establish New Telehealth Policies to Safeguard Well-Child Care and Immunizations”. https://nashp.org/states-establish-new-telehealth-policies-to-safeguard-well-child-care-and-immunizations/