Make 'Temporary' Regulatory Relief Permanent After the Pandemic Passes

The health crisis revealed red tape that hobbles our lives even in good times.


Early in the response to the pandemic, localities hard-hit by COVID-19 invited medical professionals working in more fortunate places to temporarily relocate and help treat afflicted patients. To make such moves possible, state governments suspended or loosened licensing requirements that would otherwise delay and discourage doctors, nurses, and others hoping to lend a hand. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services similarly eased restrictions on cross-border practice of medicine, telehealth, testing, and other services. The Food and Drug Administration stepped-down regulation of personal protective equipment and medical devices. Local governments cut all sorts of red tape to make life a bit easier.

Many rules that served as tedious bureaucratic obstructionism in good times were quickly revealed as dangerous and potentially deadly during a crisis and tossed aside. And that's where those rules should remain after the pandemic is gone⁠—on the garbage heap of failed authoritarian policy.

"Sometimes, destruction may create an opportunity for future growth, if the destruction includes the piled-up layers of interest group guano that coats the gears of the system," writes Michael Munger, a professor of political science, economics, and public policy at Duke University. "Our systems of occupational licensing—always a mook's game, but now clearly preventing rapid response to emergencies in other states—drug and medical equipment certification, and regulating employment in the 'gig' economy, have all been shown to be catastrophic. The economic justification for these grants and set-asides was never persuasive. Let's get rid of them!"

Get rid of them, indeed! But how much guano are we talking about?

Isabelle Morales, a communications associate at Americans for Tax Reform, took a crack at adding-up suspended rules and has—so far—come up with well over 500 of them, from federal agencies, state regulators, and local governments. They range from restrictions on medical tests and the production of ventilators to limits on hours driven by truckers and bans on take-out alcoholic beverages.

It's unclear that any of the rules were ever necessary, easy to understand why pushing them aside during an emergency is wise, and difficult to imagine that the world would be a better place if governments inflict them on us once again.

Maybe getting blanket agreement on permanently clearing away all of the red tape is a stretch, but there's widespread agreement that we should sweep lots of rules out of the way.

"We will learn many lessons as a result of this period in history," comments Arizona State University's Stephen Slivinski. "Hopefully one of them will be the benefits of a reduction in the barriers that occupational licensing policies create — not just today in the fight against the coronavirus, but in the future as a means to increase human well-being."

Slivinski, whose work has been quoted by reformers in both the Obama and Trump administrations, has long warned that occupational licensing hampers low-income entrepreneurs and former prisoners seeking honest work. Now he points out that "it is hard to quickly increase the number of doctors or other medical professionals in a state because state laws make it difficult for medical professionals to simply move into and quickly begin to practice—temporarily or otherwise—in a new state."

The solution is to reduce licensing barriers, or else to expand reciprocity so that licenses issued in one state are recognized elsewhere, easing mobility and flexibility in good times and bad. The U.S. Department of Labor agrees, pointing to states that have eased licensing requirements for the pandemic and emphasizing the Trump administration's support for permanent reform.

The Brookings Institution, which also favors occupational licensing reform, suggests that restrictions on telehealth should similarly be retired.

"State and federal barriers in the use of telehealth and AI have served as hindrances to the launch of its full capabilities, particularly those laws that present a patchwork of accepted and non-eligible costs and services," Nicol Turner Lee, Jack Karsten, and Jordan Roberts wrote this month for Brookings. "As Congress is charged with re-evaluating the leniencies permitted to health-care providers during this crisis, federal lawmakers should also see the benefits. The same holds true for states that will need to reconsider lifting boundaries on telehealth services to accelerate its transformational capabilities for patients and doctors."

Temporary federal regulatory relief allows providers like my wife (a pediatrician) to consult with patients via FaceTime and Zoom, get paid for the virtual session, and not then be charged with HIPAA privacy violations. There's no reason that telemedicine shouldn't be a permanent option when it's appropriate.

But if patients do need to be seen in person, they should be able to pick whatever transportation works for getting to clinics and hospitals. As it is, many jurisdictions throw legal obstacles in the way of services like Uber and Lyft transporting patients, picking up medication, and providing other medical-related services. That needs to stop.

"Transportation problems are often cited as a barrier to receiving care and medical compliance," Laura Fraade-Blanar and Christopher Whaley pointed out for RAND Corporation earlier this month. "At least three states removed regulatory barriers to allow rideshares to provide [Non-Emergency Medical Transportation] in the last few weeks." They urge widespread easing of such red tape.

That's only a taste of the rules that need to be cleared away, of course. We should also throw in—at the very least—the regulatory detritus that makes it difficult to manufacture hand sanitizer, or to purchase protective gear, or to drink a beer in the sunshine and fresh air.

"The crisis has been a stress test for American institutions," Patrick McLaughlin, Matthew D. Mitchell, Adam Thierer of the Mercatus Center commented last month. "It has laid bare the outdated, overlapping, and often contradictory morass of rules that make it difficult for public and private organizations to respond to changing circumstances. In many cases, these rules persist not because they protect the public from danger but because they protect organized interest groups from new competition."

After the pandemic passes, government officials will be tempted to return to life-as-usual, restrictive red tape included. But regulatory life-as-usual didn't allow us enough breathing room in good times, it seriously hampered our ability to respond to a health crisis, and it threatens to hobble the economic recovery to come. We may or may not have a cure for COVID-19 anytime soon, but we have a rare opportunity to treat an epidemic of rules and regulations.

NEXT: Twitter Fact-Checks Trump. Trump Threatens To Shut Down Twitter.

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  1. “Many rules that served as tedious bureaucratic obstructionism” … may have saved just one life. Totes worth it

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  2. Think of the children of the bureaucrats who will starve if regulations and government mandated paperwork is reduced!

    1. so we do away with this reg: if you contract Covid hospitals have to treat you.

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    2. If we let the bureaucrats keep their jobs, but paid them to do nothing, it would still be worth it.

  3. “government officials will be tempted to return to life-as-usual”

    Except for Gov Phil Murphy, who believes his edicts come straight from God.

    1. Democrats do believe they have been elected, in the Calvinist predestination sense.

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    2. He seems to be acting like he thinks he outranks God.

  4. that’s right: lower methane well emissions restrictions from Covid ravaged Permian Basin.

  5. Bureaucracy is just the price we pay for being so wealthy. Just as more wealth brings more fringe luxury occupations, such as yoga trainers and Starbucks baristas, so does it encourage more government bureaucracy. Face it — we couldn’t afford all these bureaucrats and all their red tape 50 or 100 years ago — they are as much an indication of our wealth and fitness as a nation, as peacock tail feathers or elk antlers.

    We should not be destroying these signs of wealth. We should be proud! Embrace bureaucracy!

    1. “…Embrace bureaucracy!”

      In an iron maiden.

      1. run to the hills.

    2. It really is unavoidable, at least until you get a population that is majority principled libertarian. I plan to see such a thing in my lifetime. But I also plan to live thousands of years in a robot/clone, so that’s not saying much.

    3. That post could possibly be even more retarded than your screen name.
      Money that goes into government is nothing but taken from the economy.
      Imagine how wealthy we all could be if we didn’t have to fund these self-serving, liberty-stealing bureaucracies.

  6. >>tempted to return to life-as-usual, restrictive red tape included

    dude it’s gonna be attempted regulatory onslaught. we’ll be lucky they don’t tax aspiration.

    1. They really need to finally do something about assault breathing. And nobody needs spittle.

    2. The only things that will remain will be, in typical lefty fashion, changes they couldn’t have made through the democratic process.
      Just as they have done, through judicial fiat.

  7. Even little things like grocery bags. Round here they’d just outlawed plastic bags in an effort to force people to use reusable ones. Now you can’t even bring the reusable ones into the store. Which is kinda funny since a counterargument to those bags was that they harbor germs. What I find to be truly hilarious is that when I was a kid, stores were pressured into using plastic bags to save the trees. Then no plastic bags to save the landfills. Now use plastic bags because they don’t spread germs. It’s enough to make someone dizzy.

    1. They’ve done the same where I am, and its the single best thing about this lockdown. I hate reusable bags with a burning passion.

      1. I don’t mind them too much. They hold a crazy amount of stuff, and are better at staying up in the car. Thing is, I hardly ever remember to bring them.

      2. “…I hate reusable bags with a burning passion.”

        They’re ‘reusable’ about twice; the second use has the bagger putting the eggs in first, and the canned-goods on top; instant garbage bag.

      3. Must be nice to have such a good life that reusable bags garner so much of your ire.

    2. It’s all about busy-bodies finding some way to feel like they are “making a difference”. We’ve got it so good these days that people have to search pretty hard for actual problems to fix. It’s much easier to just make something up.

  8. Nostradamus predicted long ago that a plague would usher in a lawless society where the living feasted on the dead. I guess here we are.

  9. Make ‘Temporary’ Regulatory Relief Permanent After the Pandemic Passes

    I’ll take “things that will never happen” for $1000, Alex.

  10. Uh, I’m pretty sure the battle we’ll be fighting is in defense of other freedoms; commie bastards like Cuomo and Newsom want to ‘plan’ a more fair and green economy!

    “NY Gov. Cuomo says ‘there will be winners and losers in this new economy’ as state begins reopening”
    “New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo warned Tuesday that the economy is not going to “just bounce back” even as the state begins its phased reopening plan in some regions.”

    The opening battles will be getting their mitts off the economy and businesses.

    1. It’s sure beginning to look like that. I wonder how long it took the Dems to realize what golden eggs this coronavirus goose was laying. It would have been fun to be a fly on the wall during those awakenings.

  11. Hello, I think that it’s quite right. We should pay attention to this problem and act strictly in order to protect ourselves. I read a some articles at source about it.

  12. This would be less of an issue if ALL rules, regulations, law had a sunset clause preventing them from persisting across time unhindered. Only those rules that are seen to be fit and just across multiple administrations and generations would be allowed to continue the rest would fall away like the rot most are.

    The saying oes that ignorance of the law is no excuse and yet no one man or women on this planet knows the law. Even within specialized areas of law there is no one expert who knows all law in that area and its because we have too many useless laws that should have ended long ago; laws that made it onto the books because some powerful person or group paid to have them passed or because some do good politician tried to buy favors from the public.

    A mandatory sunset clause on every rule, law or regulation would ensure that only the most needed persist and as an added benefit the time needed to continually review and re-vote on soon to expire laws would keep politicians too busy to wry about new ways to control our lives. The only losers would be those who like an excess of laws to keep the public in check.

  13. We never really get any freedoms back, it is always more rules, laws, and regulations. Every crisis is used as an opportunity for private and public enterprises for whatever agenda they may have.

  14. Legislation is adapting to the current situation: At least three states removed regulatory barriers to allow rideshares to provide [Non-Emergency Medical Transportation] in the last few weeks.” electrician in alexandria va

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