Saturday, August 1, 2009

Stan Brock's healthcare solution

Here is an idea to ease some of the lacking healthcare coverage in the US. Allow volunteer physicians and dentists to practice across state lines.

Some of you may remember Stan Brock who is known for the television series Wild Kingdom. He now runs an organization called Remote Area Medical (RAM). They started out in the remote regions of the Amazon rain forest providing healthcare to the Wapishana Indians. They now run what's called the Rural AMerica Program.
The primary purpose of the Rural AMerica Program is to provide vision and dental care for underserved areas of the US. The vision care team of RAM provides people with eye exams and eyeglasses to improve their present circumstances and better see the world around them. For some, a pair of glasses may allow them to drive more safely, get a job or better execute their present job. For others, reading glasses will allow them to read more comfortably or thread a needle for the first time in years.

Allowing physicians to practice across state lines will create a Peace Corps - like program that would operate in underserved areas across the US. Stan Brock and his volunteers are ready to go:
The greatest impediment to providing the care is that in the United States doctors are not allowed to cross state lines to provide free care to people in another state. In other words, if you are licensed as a doctor in the state of New York you can't go to Texas and provide even free care. We run into that problem all the time, and that policy absolutely needs to be changed.

Currently only Tennessee allows out-of-state physicians to volunteer within the state:
In 1995 the Tennessee legislature passed the Volunteer Healthcare Service Act, which allows any charitable organization to bring in doctors, dentists and veterinarians from anywhere in the United States. All they have to do is show up, give us a copy of their license, roll their sleeves up, and get busy.

And guess what, unlike the healthcare reform mess making it's way through Congress now, expanding RAM to all states won't cost the US taxpayers a dime. The program is actually effective - here are some statistics from RAM:
  • Total patient encounters 357,368
  • Total value of free care donated by RAM to the underserved $33,079,038
  • Total number of participating ram volunteers 36,675
  • Total glasses given 70,704
  • Total teeth extracted 109,555
  • Total veterinary care 63,785 animals

Update: Here is a great comment on the issue from Mike Collins:
The respective States' refusal to allow out-of-state licensed physicians to practice -- even on a voluntary basis -- is indefensible. We are dealing with the equivalent of State-imposed guilds reminiscent of the Middle Ages. No wonder costs are so high. This provincial attitude prohibits not just voluntary medicine but tele-medicine as well. It's time for the federal government to step in and intervene with pre-emptive legislation allowing licensure in one state to be recognized elsewhere. A kidney is a kidney, whether in New York or Nebraska.

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