As we inch toward pre-COVID normalcy, it’s important to recognize how much Americans have benefited from temporarily cutting red tape. It’s equally important to recognize who’s lobbying to return to red tape normalcy.
A recent Wall Street Journal article questions whether the easing of regulations that occurred during the pandemic should be abandoned now that there is a light at the end of the Covid tunnel.
When it comes to red tape, the article acknowledges that sometimes it’s misguided regulators; other times it’s industry participants who know that more regulation means fewer competitors. Worse yet are industry participants who sit on regulatory bodies—an overlooked and dangerous category of actors with the legal ability to exclude unwanted competition.
Take Texas, which since the onset of COVID-19 has banned teledentistry. Remote dental care acts as critical medical triage by heading off needless emergency room and dentist office visits while saving patients time and money. Yet the 11-member dental board, comprised of nine practicing dentists, prohibits the practice. Banning teledentistry doesn’t protect the public, but it does protect traditional brick-and-mortar practitioners from competition.
Board capture by industry members is a recurring phenomenon—and was even the basis of a Supreme Court case wherein the Federal Trade Commission sued a dental board for prohibiting basic teeth whitening services without a dentistry license. One study found that licensees held a majority of seats on 90% of the occupational licensing boards in Florida and Tennessee. Not surprisingly, an Arizona State University report found that the more industry practitioners on a regulatory board, the higher the barriers to enter that trade.
Whether regulations that were suspended were simply bad economic policy (certificate of need laws), antiquated (no Medicare/Medicaid coverage for telehealth), paternalistic (no hand sanitizer handouts when you buy alcohol), or affirmatively corrupt, COVID-19 exposed their futility in protecting public health and their menace to economic opportunity and innovation. Knowing the who and why behind the push to reinstate these regulations will further prove why they should stay repealed—permanently.