COVID-19 Action Toolkit includes guides on nine topics surrounding the pandemic
May 1, 2020 (ACP) – As the 50 states play crucial roles in the coronavirus pandemic, the American College of Physicians is arming its state chapters with the information they need to advocate for policies on the state level that are favorable for physicians and their patients.
Based on inquiries from its chapters and members, ACP created a new COVID-19 Action Toolkit. “Through this new toolkit, we're providing guidance to our chapters on issues that their states are either already facing or may soon face as the pandemic progresses,” said Shuan Tomlinson, ACP senior analyst of state health policy & grassroots.
The toolkit includes guides to nine topics. “Each of these issue briefs provides background on the issue and identifies the action we would like for the chapters to take with their state and local officials,” Tomlinson said.
Here's a closer look at the topics:
Cost sharing. According to Tomlinson, ACP favors elimination of cost sharing during COVID-19 to ensure that all patients are covered for COVID-19 diagnostic testing and other related services, including antibody testing, at no cost. “We want our chapters to urge insurers, state insurance commissioners and lawmakers, and other public officials to eliminate cost sharing (co-pays, co-insurance, deductibles) for diagnostic testing,” she said. “They should also eliminate cost sharing related to testing, including hospital, emergency department, urgent care and physician office visits. And policymakers should prohibit prior authorization for testing and all services related to testing.”
Medicaid expansion. Fourteen states have still failed to adopt the expansion of Medicaid coverage per the Affordable Care Act. They include Texas, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Wyoming, South Dakota and Wisconsin.
“It's important that states take action to close the coverage gaps and encourage physician participation so that COVID-19 testing and treatment and other medically necessary services are available to those who need it,” Tomlinson said. “We want our chapters to urge their policymakers to strengthen Medicaid when our health system needs it most.”
Restricting access to abortion. Some states have inappropriately banned abortions “under the pretext that abortion is a nonessential procedure and takes away from the scarce supply of medical equipment that is being strained by the COVID-19 response,” ACP writes. In fact, “given the time constraints of a pregnancy, abortion services may not be an elective and non-urgent procedure that can be postponed until stay-at-home orders expire.”
Medical liability protections. “We are concerned about the potential liability of physicians and other health care professionals who are responding to this pandemic and are being asked to work in near unprecedented circumstances,” Tomlinson said. “We want our chapters to urge their state officials to provide physicians and facilities with appropriate immunity from civil liability for harm.”
Telehealth/phone consultations. While Medicare has lifted some barriers to telehealth during the pandemic, ACP is urging members to advocate with insurers, Medicaid directors and state officials to broaden coverage and lift restrictions.
Regulatory relief. ACP explains it is “advocating for specific regulatory relief to remove unnecessary burden on physicians so they are able to focus their efforts on addressing the COVID-19 crisis.”
Social distancing. ACP believes that “social distancing based on the most up-to-date, evidence-based recommendations is currently our best weapon to stop the spread of COVID-19.” ACP is urging members to advocate for states to follow ACP policy and not “reopen” until five crucial criteria are met, as outlined in the ACP “Statement on Identifying ‘Essential Elements' to Ease Social Distancing Protocols, Address White House Guidance to ‘Re-open’ the U.S.” These criteria include widespread availability of screening and testing, implementation of prevention measures, and sufficient resources and infrastructure on both the population and health care system levels.
Scope of practice. ACP is urging its members to monitor any changes in scope-of-practice laws in their states. “ACP recommends that state chapters not challenge a temporary easing of physician supervision and other state licensure restrictions that are consistent with [new federal guidance], as long as they would be in effect only for the duration of the declared national emergency,” ACP writes in the guide.
Workforce. ACP is urging its members to advocate with their state policymakers to make a number of changes to support the expansion of the primary care physician workforce during the pandemic. These changes include:
- Temporarily allow physicians licensed in good standing to practice across state lines.
- Temporarily allow states to mobilize inactive physicians into the workforce, including those who temporarily left for family reasons, retired physicians and non-clinical physicians.
- If a state has a loan repayment program, expand state loan forgiveness/repayment programs for practicing in underserved areas to include frontline residents and physicians providing care to COVID-19 patients.
- If a state does not have a loan repayment program, establish a loan forgiveness/repayment program for frontline residents and physicians providing care to COVID-19 patients.
The COVID-19 Action Toolkit is available on the ACP website.