Commentary

Gov. Whitmer Repeals Rule She Says Helped Michigan Fight Coronavirus

Less strict medical scope-of-practice rules should remain

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is making unilateral decisions for how Michigan responds to COVID-19. Her recent decision to reinstitute medical licensing rules makes little sense, especially considering the governor is also warning the public about the dangers of an increasing number of positive coronavirus cases.

The governor describes her response to the virus as operating like a dial. But she seems to be moving the dial in opposite directions at the same time. For instance, last Friday, she said the virus was dangerous enough to require a new executive order that mandates the entire state to wear masks. But four days later, she said the state could afford to reinstitute restrictions on licensed medical providers.

Specifically, her executive order issued of Friday, July 10 Friday says, “Our progress in suppressing COVID-19, however, appears to have stalled.” But then came Monday, July 13, and a news release announcing the new executive order that reinstitute restrictions on medical workers. The governor said, “As Michigan continues to make progress in slowing the spread of COVID-19, it is no longer necessary to permit medical professionals to practice beyond the limits of their licenses.”

This is especially surprising, considering the governor maintains that relaxing these restrictions “save countless lives and ensured our hospitals were fully staffed to care for COVID-19 patients.” Lifting these restrictions made it easier for workers to skip licensing mandates, do work without the direct supervision of a doctor and avoid other, largely needless, licensing hoops.

Michigan’s rules for nurses are particularly strict and ripe for reform. Our state is among the “dirty dozen” which, for example, impose the most restrictions on what nurse practitioners can do. The long-standing research finds that these rules do more harm than good, and a new working paper from Drs. Alicia Plemmons and Shishir Shakya further supports this. The study, “Does Scope of Practice Affect Mobility of Nurse Practitioners Serving Medicare Beneficiaries?” finds that more restrictive scope-of-practice rules mean nurse practitioners are more likely to move from a state and less likely to relocate to states with stricter rules.

In other words, loosening these regulatory rules means more medical professionals working in Michigan. The governor was wrong to reinstitute these restrictions, especially in the midst of a pandemic — one she herself says is worsening.