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COVID-19: What Healthcare Policy Lessons Have We Learned?

By: Rich Bagger

The life sciences research and development ecosystem, based largely in the United States, is racing to defeat COVID-19, with 140 plus vaccine development programs underway and over 1,400 clinical trials evaluating nearly 500 potential treatments. Together with the heroic efforts of front-line healthcare workers and public health leaders across the country and around the world, medical innovation offers great promise to see us through this crisis. And, once COVID-19 is defeated, it will be time for a national conversation about what lessons we have learned for public health and our healthcare system.

Some of the topics for that (hopefully thoughtful and inclusive) discussion include:

  • The importance of maintaining the policy environment that is so conducive to medical innovation in the United States. Now is not the time to pursue policies that put future innovation at risk.
  • Patient access to healthcare, including health coverage with affordable cost-sharing and without hurdles to accessing treatment. It is important for patient access and health care outcomes that many forms of COVID-19 treatment are available without deductibles, co-payments and co-insurance. The same is true for other serious medical conditions, as well as for health screening, prevention and wellness. Patient costs should be lowest for healthcare that contributes most to improved health outcomes, and patients with serious diseases should not face disproportionately higher cost-sharing.
  • The central role of hospitals and medical providers to our health care infrastructure. Hospitals and the health care professionals who work in hospitals are the last line of defense in a public health crisis. They need the resources to be ready for a resurgence of COVID-19 or future public health emergencies.
  • The value of Telehealth for expanding access to health care. Patients and medical professionals nationwide relied on Telehealth during the pandemic to maintain access to health care while reducing visits to medical facilities. That experience helped reveal the ongoing value to Telehealth, when combined with in person medical screening and treatment, to optimize patient access and care. Consideration should be given to making permanent many of the regulatory flexibilities for Telehealth that were put in place during the public health emergency.
  • Building on best practices deployed during the past few months by continuing to invest in sufficient and up-to-date stockpiles of medical equipment and PPE, and supporting innovative partnerships to increase domestic production capacity.
  • Considering how incentives and tax policy can help ensure increased production of medical products and supplies in the United States, including in Puerto Rico.

There are undoubtedly many additional topics that should be part of the health care conversation once we beat back COVID-19. Rather than reflexively snap back completely to the pre-COVID policy debate around health care, I am hopeful that the crisis presents all healthcare stakeholders with an opportunity to think anew about our healthcare system in a post-COVID world.