- By Jeff Cockrell April 07, 2020
- Faculty Impact
As the coronavirus outbreak began to escalate in countries around the world, including the United States, much of the public policy discussion addressed the need to “flatten the curve” of the virus’s spread—slow the rate of infections, and thereby blunt the peak caseload.
But there’s another side to keeping hospitals and health systems from being overwhelmed by COVID-19 cases: ramp up their patient capacity. And Booth professors grfSendhil Mullainathangrf and grfRichard H. Thaler grffelt policymakers had an opportunity to do just that, by relaxing some regulations that may be limiting the supply of health-care personnel and equipment.
So Mullainathan and Thaler wrote an op-ed in the New York Times identifying a number of regulatory areas where adjusting or suspending certain rules (temporarily, in most cases) might give hospitals the ability to treat greater numbers of patients. Their suggestions included recognizing out-of-state medical licenses, putting a moratorium on coronavirus-related malpractice suits, and suspending patents for critical equipment when the patent-holders are unable to meet demand for their products.
“In a crisis, it makes sense to relax certain rules, government rules that might be preventing us from getting where we want to go,” said Thaler, the Charles R. Walgreen Distinguished Service Professor of Behavioral Science and Economics.
But they also noted that those on the front line of the coronavirus fight were likely to have the most insight into where regulation was hindering progress. In order to tap into that insight, they have created a website, PauseRegulations.com, and are asking members of the public to submit suggestions for how targeted deregulation could facilitate a stronger response to the virus.
In its first week, the site—administered by Booth’s Center for Applied Artificial Intelligence—collected dozens of responses from people across the country. Telemedicine and restrictions around where and how it’s used have been a particularly popular topic, as respondents have noted that the ability of providers to see patients remotely gives patients continued access to medical care without exposing them (or their doctors) to increased risk of infection. Other suggestions have focused on deregulating supply chains, adjusting rules around the prescription of various drugs, and relaxing regulations around COVID-19 testing.
Once they have identified the most promising suggestions, the Center for Applied AI, which is directed by Mullainathan, the Roman Family University Professor of Computation and Behavioral Science, will work with students from the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy. Together, they will detail the relevant regulatory bodies for each idea, the benefits and consequences of reforming the regulation in question, recommendations for action, and other pertinent information. The center is forming partnerships with various members of the legal and policy consulting community, who can use the resulting reports to funnel the ideas through the relevant policy channels in hopes of reaching the right decision-makers.
“The normal process by which some idea that academics have gets implemented by somebody takes years,” said Thaler. “What we hope is that a staffer in some governor’s office gets an idea, tells her Governor who then makes it happen.”
In the meantime, policymakers appear to be recognizing the need for practical deregulation, temporarily relaxing rules to help deal with the crisis. New Jersey governor Phil Murphy has granted health workers immunity from medical malpractice lawsuits related to COVID-19. States including Michigan and Illinois have relaxed state licensure requirements for out-of-state health workers. “A lot of this stuff seems to be happening,” Thaler said. “Not surprisingly, we weren’t the only ones thinking about this.”
Have a suggestion for a regulatory pause that could help facilitate a better response to the pandemic? Suggest it at PauseRegulations.com.