Freeing Health Professionals to Provide Free Care
It should be no surprise that dedicated health care professionals across the country devote countless hours to serving patients, and, in many cases, do so free of charge or regardless of ability to pay. What is surprising is that many are able and willing to do even more but are literally being stopped in their tracks. In the majority of states, licensed health care professionals in good standing from out-of-state are actually prohibited from providing free care to the sick and those in need.
Putting the merits of professional licensure aside, it is difficult to fathom how preventing someone from receiving free health care in any way serves their best interest, particularly when the volunteering provider holds a license. The policy rationale for in-state licensure as a means to protect patients breaks down when, in many cases, the choice isn’t between a licensed provider and an unlicensed provider, but a choice between a licensed provider from out-of-state and no care at all.
Stan Brock, founder of the Tennessee-based charity care group Remote Area Medical, points to the problem—”[y]ou cannot get enough volunteers from one place, a hometown, in order to meet incredible demand.” Brock says his group, which has delivered over $60 million in charity care across the United States with over 300,000 patient interactions, has been blocked from giving away free glasses in Missouri, been told not to come back in Georgia, and has had to turn away droves of patients in California—not because there weren’t enough volunteers, but because the volunteers were from out-of-state.
It’s easy, perhaps, in the context of the current Medicaid expansion debate, to lose sight of the value of free care and simply assume that needs will be met. Demand for uncompensated care, however, continues to climb regardless of public insurance. A recent chart from the American Hospital Association shows that uncompensated care costs incurred by hospitals since 1980 have increased despite significant growth in both Medicare and Medicaid.
While so much has and will continue to be said about the demand for lower cost and higher quality health care in America, let’s not forget another demand—the demand for licensed health care professionals to help meet these challenges if given the opportunity, providing free, quality care to many of the nation’s most vulnerable. States like Tennessee, Illinois and Connecticut are meeting that demand and the American Legislative Exchange Council’s model Out-of-State Charity Care Act provides a blueprint for other states to do the same.