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Opinion: Pandemic Shows Over-regulated, Under-embraced Innovation in MS

By Hunter Estes
Mississippi Center for Public Policy

As a deadly virus has spread across the nation, many of us have been forced to embrace alternative work and life patterns from those we previously occupied. Some of these strategies have been a bit alien, including remote work and the need for food delivery amidst self-isolation. Yet, in truth, we have been empowered to embrace innovation in this period.

The modern digital economy has given us the ability to craft unique approaches to work and consumption that never would have been possible just a few years ago, and it should not have taken a pandemic to embrace policies and regulatory changes that encourage this new age sharing economy.

For too long, states have over-regulated and under-embraced innovation and entrepreneurship. These rules have stifled opportunities and their negative impacts on the market are on full shameless display amidst a crisis that truly tests us on a society-wide scale. Many of these types of regulations are revealed to be little more than hollow shells of protectionism. They are policies that carry little good, while discouraging certain businesses from even attempting to operate.

Amidst the current crisis, states around the country are removing some of these barriers such as those pertaining to certificates of need, which limit what healthcare providers can open hospitals or care centers, telemedicine rules, which limit the ability for doctors to talk with their patients via online video access, licensing requirements that restrict qualified doctors from practicing, alcohol policies that discourage home access and affect those unable to travel, and arbitrary delivery policies, that limit what truckers can haul in order to prop up certain distributors.

The Mississippi State Board of Medical Licensure announced a temporary easing of a series of regulations that allowed an increase in telemedicine. This change will serve critically important to easing the stress on our hospitals and healthcare workers as we seek to flatten the curve and ensure medical treatment gets to those who need it most.

In the midst of this crisis, every time a government official comes out and announces that we are suspending such a rule, it is worth asking if we truly needed it in the first place. Why were we limiting healthcare operators that could have brought more facilities to rural communities? Why were we limiting doctors’ ability to connect with their patients through the internet, especially when this could have mitigated potential hospital exposure to viruses and bacteria amongst the elderly? Why did we stop truckers from hauling food and alcohol in the same truck, when this could have streamlined critical deliveries, especially when communities are in need of resources?

I can’t help but wonder if the legislature feels slightly ridiculous for shutting down these changes previously along with many others. This year, along with legislation that would have allowed for certificate of need changes, the Mississippi Senate killed the direct shipment of wine to your house. When so many stores are forced to close, and many of us are quarantined in our homes, this policy seems all the worse.

Food delivery business such as DoorDash, PostMates, GrubHub, Uber Eats, and others, are playing a critical role in getting food from restaurants to your house. Yet these groups and others have long been discouraged from operating by limiting what they are allowed to deliver and favoring existing businesses, such as taxi companies over Uber, or restaurants over food trucks. During the current virus outbreak, many of these same companies are removing delivery fees in order to make it easier for people to get vital supplies.

Other existing companies, restaurants, and grocery stores are turning to delivery and curbside pickup in order to stay open and continue operating. Yet, while a virus highlights the importance of resource access for the many who are forced to currently stay home, what about those who, due to ailment or ability, were already so often forced to stay home? Over-regulating food, healthcare, and resource access seems terrible during a time of crisis, but it has been hurting people long before the coronavirus.

I am thankful that many of our societal leaders, recognizing the need to create alternative opportunities for work and consumption, have been willing to set aside their entrenched opposition to innovation and remove some of these burdensome rules and regulations. Moving forward, hopefully we can take an equally open mindset to new opportunities beyond this crisis, after all, many of these rules have hurt us for too long.

I just wish it hadn’t taken a pandemic to realize that.

Hunter Estes is the Development Manager of the Mississippi Center for Public Policy, the state’s non-partisan, free-market think tank.

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