Georgia faces a choice for its health care: pursue a bold, person-centered policy path, or default to the usual government-centered approach to providing care.

 

Our lawmakers can enact reforms that reduce costs, expand access, and enhance quality by giving people a personal option. A personal option means removing barriers to care and empowering patients with more choice and control and price transparency.

The good news is Georgia is already taking steps in this direction.

In 2020, the legislature empowered physician assistants (PAs) to work more independently of physicians. It did what most Americans think is sensible: let health professionals do what they’re trained to do.

Removing these unnecessary “scope of practice” limits on nonphysician providers like PAs and nurses helps ease critical health care shortages, especially in rural and other medically underserved areas.

One study demonstrated that restrictive scope of practice laws do not improve the quality of care. Repealing or loosening these restrictions would increase the number of qualified health care providers in Georgia, which is especially important given 149 of our 159 counties are designated as ‘health provider shortage areas.’

Expanding scope of practice for Georgia’s nurses isn’t the only Personal Option reform our lawmakers can champion.

Also in 2019, Georgia reformed a law restricting how health care providers can expand their locations or services, called a “certificate-of-need” law. Such laws require the government to approve new locations or services or locations that providers want to offer, which limits both competition and patients’ access to critical services.

Many states have a CON law in some form. It’s thinly veiled purpose: to shield existing hospitals and health facilities from competition, meaning patients have fewer options and higher costs.

Studies show CON laws raise costs and reduce quality while limiting access — the very thing the laws were intended to promote. Defenders claim they “save lives.”

And yet, during the pandemic, Governor Brian Kemp suspended certificate-of-need requirements even further…to save lives. This temporary reform highlighted the importance of allowing providers to meet needs quickly in their communities. It should be made permanent.

These reforms to certificate of need and scope-of-practice laws were positive if incremental.  The governor and the legislature have the opportunity to go further — and they should.

Let’s do for nurses as we’ve done for PAs, namely, let them practice to the full extent of their training without having to ask a doctor’s permission and without arbitrary geographic restrictions.

Let’s also repeal certificate-of-need laws in their entirety, so patients can get the care they need, when and where they need it. Health care providers shouldn’t need a government permission slip to meet needs where they exist.

Repealing or reforming certificate-of-need and scope-of-practice laws is not only popular — more than three out of four Americans support doing so — but also sensible opportunities to refocus the health care system on the people it’s meant to serve.

It’s time we put patients first by giving them more choice and control over their health care.

And that’s exactly what Georgia is doing. We are already on the right path. Now the legislature should keep us moving toward a Personal Option in health care for all Georgians.

Tony West is deputy state director of Americans for Prosperity-Georgia.

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