One of the most consequential laws of the 2022 legislative session received next to no media coverage. But thanks to its passage, you might get to keep seeing your doctor, or have a nurse the next time you go to the hospital.
During the pandemic, health care facilities found themselves with sudden, critical shortages of providers. But by law they couldn’t bring out-of-state providers here to fill the gaps. Those providers lacked New Hampshire licenses.
New Hampshire does not automatically recognize out-of-state professional licenses. So the state had to tell hospitals and other employers that they couldn’t fill their staffing needs with qualified, licensed health care professionals because those professionals had licenses issued by the wrong state.
Gov. Chris Sununu responded quickly by issuing emergency orders that let these providers come to New Hampshire under an emergency license. Thousands did.
But here’s the problem with emergency licenses. They end when the emergency ends.
An emergency license is like a life raft that deflates when the storm ends.
Even if you Haven’t reached shore, that raft is gone. Now what?
New Hampshire issued emergency licenses to 22,328 health care professionals during the pandemic. Those licenses were set to expire in March.
What’s the big deal; those are just temporary helpers, right?
The 22,328 emergency license holders total 26% of all licensed health care providers in the state. They included 951 mental health counselors, 1,064 social workers, 1,114 psychologists, 2,104 Advanced Practice Registered Nurses, and 14,920 physicians.
Emergency license holders represent 36% of licensed alcohol and drug counselors, 39% of licensed advanced practice registered nurses, 44% of licensed independent clinical social workers, 45% of licensed clinical mental health counselors, 47% of licensed marriage and family therapists, 63% of licensed psychologists and 65% of licensed physicians.
To prevent a sudden and massive reduction in access to providers, the state needed to prevent the expiration of those licenses.
The solution was Senate Bill 277, which made those emergency licenses permanent. It also restored the Office of Professional Licensure’s authority to issue emergency licenses, and created an option for issuing emergency licenses going forward.
The bill preserved Granite Staters’ access to thousands of providers who had been offering care safety in the state for two years. But its long-term impact is even more important.
By granting permanent licenses to out-of-state providers, the bill undermines the argument, often made by industry trade associations, that out-of-state occupational licenses are inherently inferior and must not be recognized by New Hampshire.
In one fell swoop, the state just granted permanent licenses to more than 22,000 health care professionals licensed by other states. During two years in which those professionals practiced in New Hampshire, the Office of Professional Licensure recorded no serious health or safety violations from those practitioners.
Unfortunately, the state didn’t follow through to the obvious logical conclusion and simply grant automatic license reciprocity for practitioners licensed in other states. Legislators were not quite ready to go that far.
New Hampshire’s experience with emergency health care licenses during the pandemic showed that universal recognition of occupational licenses is a safe and effective way to increase access to medical care for Granite Staters. Why wouldn’t it also be a safe and effective way to increase access to all licensed professionals?