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In response to the coronavirus outbreak, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has rolled back regulations on hospitals and health care providers.

Hospitals are no longer barred from treating COVID-19 patients in outpatient facilities. The feds are also freeing nurse practitioners, physician assistants and medical residents to provide more care on their own. CMS is even issuing waivers that allow hospitals to provide meals, laundry service and child care while health care personnel are working.

Apparently, it takes a pandemic for policymakers to acknowledge that so many of the rules they’ve put in place serve little purpose. This crisis-driven effort to slash government red tape not only will help our nation defeat COVID-19 — it will yield a more efficient, higher-quality health care system post-pandemic.

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CMS is only the latest government entity to go on a deregulatory kick. Earlier in March, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order that unwound years of health care labor market restrictions. It allows doctors educated at foreign medical schools to provide care without needing a license from the state. It permits respiratory therapists, physician assistants and nurses licensed in any state to practice in New York.

And it enables nurse practitioners and physician assistants “to provide medical services appropriate to their education, training and experience” without a doctor’s supervision. New York is one of several states with “scope-of-practice” laws that prohibit nurse practitioners and physician assistants from writing prescriptions, diagnosing patients and more without approval from a physician.

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Rules like these have long made little sense. Both nurse practitioners and physician assistants hold graduate degrees and advanced medical training. There are currently 290,000 nurse practitioners in the United States, nearly 90 percent of whom specialize in primary care. Physician assistants often serve as the primary provider at clinics in rural or underserved areas.

Scope-of-practice rules also limit the supply of care available to patients. That’s problematic, given that the U.S. health care system was short on qualified personnel before the coronavirus hit. The federal government has designated nearly 7,600 Health Professional Shortage Areas across the country; the collective population of these areas is more than 77 million.

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