With the coronavirus pandemic threatening to overwhelm health care in the United States, states are moving quickly to find policy solutions to address the growing crisis. One critical tool that state lawmakers are using are emergency orders that loosen occupational licensing restrictions to ensure that as many medical professionals as possible can serve patients in their state.

On March 12, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers issued Executive Order 72 declaring a health emergency. But unlike other governors, Evers has not yet issued any orders that would provide for emergency, temporary, or out-of-state licensing for medical professionals.

State senator Dale Kooyenga issued a letter to the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS) and the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) on March 17 urging regulators to take these steps. Kooyenga wrote in part:

It has come to my attention that the state has the ability during an emergency to grant reciprocal credentials to providers from other states that may not have more stringent licensing requirements than Wisconsin. I ask you to exercise these powers and issue a public statement clarifying that licenses from all states will be honored.

Furthermore, state law allows the credentials of someone who might be retired or may have left the profession up to ten years ago to re-enter practice if they left the profession in good standing. This is an opportunity to offer the chance for retired or dormant health care professionals to serve during a difficult time when their service would be very valuable. I request that you make the public and our health care providers aware so that they are given the opportunity to assist.

Across the country, governors have made loosening licensing rules and slashing through red tape a key policy response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Washington, one of the hardest hit states in the country, is allowing “Health professionals licensed in other states [to] practice in Washington by registering through the emergency volunteer health practitioner process or by applying for a WA license, which may result in the department issuing a temporary practice permit.”

In Colorado, an order from Governor Jared Polis “asked the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) to cut through red tape on licensing medical professionals so that medical professionals with licenses in other states can be licensed in Colorado as quickly as possible. The state has already contracted to have dozens of nurses from out-of-state arrive… to help with Colorado communities that have been hit the hardest.”

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker’s emergency declaration allowed the state’s Board of Nursing and Department of Public Health to put in place emergency procedures that allow out-of-state medical professionals and nurses the ability to get licensed in the Bay State in just one day.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott is taking similar measures but is also appealing to retired medical professionals who have been out of the field for two years or less to return to active status through an expedited process.

None of these measures alone will solve the looming crisis. But occupational licensing restrictions, particularly in the medical field, hinder care across state lines. Now is the time to change that, perhaps for good. But right now, Wisconsin ought to quickly move to cut red tape and expedite licensing for out-of-state and retired medical professionals in order to manage the looming surge of coronavirus cases.

Collin Roth is the Director of Communication and a Policy Analyst with the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty.

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