guest column

COVID makes health care reforms before Legislature more crucial

By , Guest Columnist Published: May 25, 2020 4:00 AM CT
Guest Columnist

Ron Shultis

Ron Shultis is the director of policy at the Beacon Center of Tennessee, a nonprofit think tank whose research addresses issues including education, health care, economic regulation and tax policy.

For millions of Americans, the past few months of “social distancing” have meant binge-watching shows, movies and documentaries non-stop. From getting your mind blown by the craziness of Joe Exotic in “Tiger King” to soaking in the greatness of Jordan and the Bulls in “The Last Dance,” this spring has been must-see television.

And while fortunately, places like restaurants are slowly starting to open back up, there isn’t as much to do yet activity-wise without movies, shows, concerts or live sports.

So what’s left to binge on if your watchlist is running short? Switch to medical dramas. With shows like “Hart of Dixie,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “House” and “Scrubs,” you can never run out of juicy medical re-runs. And if you want the inside scoop, the world of real health care, though it doesn’t have Dr. McDreamy, still has all the drama.

Prior to a temporary recess in March, the Tennessee General Assembly was considering several health care reforms, which are more important than ever with the current pandemic.

The first was a plan to eliminate many of the state’s Certificate of Need laws. Under a CON law, a health care provider must get the government’s permission to open or expand its business, or even add new machines in some cases. If a small medical practice wants to help its patients save time and money with its own MRI machine, it has to prove to the government that the community needs one, and its competitors can easily block it.

<strong>Ron Shultis</strong>

Ron Shultis

Giving hospitals and other health care facilities the power to prohibit smaller and innovative practices from expanding is wrong. Incentivizing competitors to stomp out competition causes more conflict and backstabbing than an episode of “General Hospital.”

If you need proof of how ridiculous these laws are, consider the trials of an entrepreneur who lives in Mississippi, very close to the Tennessee state line, who runs a business that helps with staffing for home health care. In an effort to expand his business and meet the need for home health in Memphis and surrounding areas, he applied for a certificate of need to begin operating in Tennessee. After spending thousands of dollars on two denied applications to the CON board, the business is still operating only in Mississippi.

Vaughan digging in to nitty gritty of medical certificates of need

This story demonstrates the need for CON reform. If we want Tennessee to be one of the fastest growing states for business and have the best patient outcomes in the country, reforming — or, better yet, completely scrapping — CON laws is an excellent and essential first step.

The other reform that was left on life support with the March recess is the expansion of telehealth. While telehealth has existed in Tennessee for a few years, it has really been in its infancy stage. The COVID-19 pandemic certainly changed that, putting telehealth on the map more than “ER” did for George Clooney.

For example, BlueCross BlueShield has processed 70,000 telehealth claims since mid-March, 18 times more than it did during the same time period last year. Current laws limit the types of practitioners that can provide telehealth services, restricting patient access. While the General Assembly has contemplated expanding and empowering the use of telehealth, the House and Senate passed two different versions of the legislation. Thus, it must be reconciled before becoming law.

BlueCross BlueShield to cover telehealth permanently

When the General Assembly returns in June to wrap up the legislative session after the COVID-19 recess, state lawmakers should put away the drama and work together to bring these reforms to fruition. It shouldn’t take a genius like Dr. House to diagnose the problem in our health care market. This pandemic has taught us that we need to remove the archaic and protectionist regulations and barriers in health care, and instead embrace and foster innovation.

By reforming CON laws, expanding access to telehealth, and allowing other free market reforms to take root, we can drive down prices in health care, expand access, and be better prepared for future health crises.

Editor’s Note: The Daily Memphian is making our coronavirus coverage accessible to all readers — no subscription needed. Our journalists continue to work around the clock to provide you with the extensive coverage you need; if you can subscribe, please do


Beacon Center Certificate of need Tennessee General Assembly Telehealth


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