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Brian Mark Weber / Mar. 20, 2020

COVID-19 Will Change Healthcare

Reducing regulation to ensure speedier service will help millions of Americans.

When terms like “social distancing” and “self quarantine” are on the tip of every journalist’s tongue, the good news can often be hard to find.

And little did we know that an act passed in 1996 would haunt us in 2020. Back then, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act was signed into law, ensuring that information shared between doctors and patients is private and secure. The HIPAA website states, “Prior to HIPAA, no generally accepted set of security standards or general requirements for protecting health information existed in the health care industry. At the same time, new technologies were evolving, and the health care industry began to move away from paper processes and rely more heavily on the use of electronic information systems.”

But the technology of 1996 is not that of today. Essentially, HIPAA prevented healthcare providers and individual doctors from taking advantage of emerging information technologies — and it required patients to be in the physical presence of their doctor in order to have important conversations about their health.

Thus, the Wuhan coronavirus has made the standard office visit not only a challenge for those suffering the symptoms but dangerous for everyone else.

As Tiana Lowe writes at The Washington Examiner, “For decades, HIPAA has strangled the healthcare system, preventing providers from communicating with patients and sharing health data with other experts” and “they are forced to use antiquated electronic medical record systems and to communicate with patients primarily in person.”

This week, all that changed.

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump took the bold step of ordering the Department of Health and Human Services to waive potential HIPAA penalties, thereby clearing the way for telemedicine. Now, a patient with coronavirus symptoms can consult with a real doctor from home.

Two healthcare providers, Kaiser Permanente and One Medical, are already offering this service to their patients. “Kaiser and One Medical can do this because patients aren’t paying to see their preferred physician,” writes Lowe. “They’re paying to get immediate, efficient care. You may wait weeks to see your private practice physician, who is financially incapable of circumventing the HIPAA stipulations that render telemedicine so difficult.”

As the nation’s coronavirus response continues to evolve, President Trump is getting rid of the red tape. Just yesterday during the daily coronavirus task force briefing, he announced that he’s directed FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn to “eliminate outdated rules and bureaucracy” in order to “get the rapid deployment of safe, effective treatments” out to the public as soon as possible. As a result, Americans will soon be able to access Chloroquine to alleviate the symptoms of coronavirus.

Trump, in fact, has been battling the bureaucracy since he took office. In 2018, he signed right-to-try legislation that allows terminally ill patients to try promising drugs that haven’t yet received FDA approval. Taken together, these steps may set a precedent by making quality care more efficient, affordable, and accessible long after we’ve conquered coronavirus.

The coronavirus panic has pushed the stock market to the brink, forced universities to teach courses online, turned millions of Americans into telecommuters, and shuttered restaurants, malls, and transportation hubs. But the good news is out there, including that American healthcare has a brighter future.

If only it hadn’t taken a national emergency to make it so.

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