Never mind Medicaid expansion. The Missouri Senate has approved a bill that would allow doctors to give free medical care to the poor.
You wouldn't think the government would have to pass a law to let doctors give free health care to the poor. Yet nearly every state prohibits out-of-state physicians and other clinicians from providing free charitable care to the poor unless those clinicians obtain a new medical license from that state.
In a forthcoming paper for the Cato Institute, I explain how medical licensing laws deny care to the poor, and how reforming those laws is a better alternative than Medicaid expansion:
Remote Area Medical has had to turn away patients or scrap clinics in places California, Florida, and Georgia. “Before Georgia told us to stop,” says founder Stan Brock, “we used to go down to southern Georgia and work with the Lions Club there treating patients.” After a tornado devastated Joplin, Missouri, Remote Area Medical arrived with a mobile eyeglass lab, yet state officials prohibited the visiting optometrists from giving away free glasses.
These stories belie the claim that government licensing of medical practitioners protects patients. Instead, they block access to care for the most vulnerable patients.
States should adopt “Good Samaritan” laws, like those enacted in Tennessee, Illinois, and Connecticut. Those states allow out-of-state-licensed clinicians to deliver free charitable care in their states without obtaining a new license. To protect patients, visiting clinicians are and should be subject to the licensing malpractice laws of the state in which they are practicing.
This week, Missouri's Senate passed such a Good Samaritan law. (It even lets licensed veterinarians come to the state to provide free charitable care to animals.) The bill also provides an inducement to out-of-state clinicians by reducing their liability exposure for malpractice. It would be better if the state were to let doctors and patients choose their own malpractice liability rules via contract. Unlike ObamaCare's massive Medicaid expansion, this bill would expand access to care for the poor without costing states or taxpayers a dime.
Here's a video on Remote Area Medical, the good that it does--and the good that licensing laws prevent it from doing.
Even if you're not ready to concede that medical licensing laws are harmful and should be repealed, you would have to admit it makes no sense for the government to block licensed doctors from treating the poor for free.