Covid-19 has led to increased demand for medical services. The economic response--increasing the supply of services--has taken various forms. One example: Gov. Asa Hutchinson has signed executive orders that expand telemedicine options and provide immunity to certain emergency responders.
There are additional ways to expand medical care for Arkansans. One is to allow licensed nurse practitioners a broader scope of practice. Yet another is to allow licensed professionals including physicians to volunteer across state lines. One example is the Good Samaritan practice of the Tennessee nonprofit Remote Area Medical (RAM), which can sponsor free medical clinics in border states like Tennessee, Missouri and Oklahoma, but not in Arkansas.
Remote Area Medical was founded by British philanthropist Stan Brock, a co-host with Marlin Perkins of Mutual of Omaha's popular TV show "Wild Kingdom."
Brock once explained, "My vision for Remote Area Medical developed when I suffered a personal injury while living among the Wapishana Indians in Guyana, South America. I was isolated from medical care, which was about a 26-day journey away. I witnessed the near devastation of whole tribes by what would have been simple or minor illnesses to more advanced cultures. When I left Guyana, I vowed to find a way to deliver basic medical aid to people in the world's inaccessible regions."
Since its founding in 1985, the nonprofit's work has been cited by CNN, Fox News, "60 Minutes," The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and other national media. The group has served 830,000 individuals in need, providing free care worth $135 million. RAM's cost per individual served is $95, while the care value per person is $338.
The group's mission is "to prevent pain and alleviate suffering by providing free quality health care to those in need." About 135,000 volunteers have served. A key component are the physicians and other professionals who travel from other states to serve at free clinics, and a telehealth program founded this year.
Missouri once imposed regulatory barriers on non-resident medical professionals. Analysts at the Show-Me Institute, a Missouri think tank, argued the state needed reform. Policymakers finally accepted the idea, with Missouri adopting license reciprocity.
Show-Me analyst Patrick Ishmael, upon meeting RAM's founder, was "struck by not only the quality of the organization itself, but by the effervescent attitude that Brock brought to providing high-quality care, free of charge, to the nation's poorest and most at-risk individuals. He was a force of nature who was not shy about offering help in a crisis."
A Volunteer Health Services Act patterned after border states would expand the supply of medical care by eliminating barriers on non-resident medical professionals.
In sum, allowing Good Samaritans to help Arkansans would increase medical supply in response to covid-19. It would also maintain expanded access in underserved rural areas of Arkansas once the outbreak ends.
Greg Kaza is executive director of the Arkansas Policy Foundation, a think tank founded in Little Rock in 1995.