Senate Republicans introduce multiple Certificate of Need reform, repeal bills

CON laws regulate health care facility formation and expansion, a practice formerly administered nationwide until the federal government repealed the laws for failing to address health care costs and access

Christine T. Nguyen—North State Journal
Kenneth Phelps (right)

RALEIGH — As health care reform efforts are drawing attention in the nation’s capital, Republican state senators in Raleigh are also seeking to reform what they describe as burdensome regulations that arbitrarily restrict access to, and increase the cost of health care for North Carolinians. A series of bills were filed Wednesday to reform or repeal Certificate of Need (CON) laws that regulate health care facilities.In a statement from the office of Senate president pro tem Phil Berger (R-Rockingham), the senate leader said North Carolina’s CON laws are among the most restrictive in the country and lead to thousands of fewer patient beds and equipment like MRI machines.The regulations are interpreted by state boards and commissions that use population, service levels and other metrics to assess the “need” for additional health care investments and technology such as bed space, MRI machines or surgery centers. New medical practices and certain equipment purchases over a specific dollar amount must be approved by the bureaucracy that administers the law.”CON laws discourage competition and drive up costs by forbidding health care providers from performing many medical services, building new facilities or even buying or replacing their own equipment without approval from state regulators,” read the statement.Senate Bill 330 would exempt hospice care facilities from CON rules; Senate Bill 349 and 328 both create exemptions for certain ocular surgeons; and Senate Bill 324 would repeal CON laws entirely.”I can’t find anyone who tells me they think the best future for health care in North Carolina is to have government agencies determining how much, and what health care we have in the state of North Carolina and where it can be located,” said primary sponsor of the full repeal bill, Sen. Ralph Hise (R-Mitchell). “We can’t keep protecting the system that exists in large facilities and large urban areas and let rural health care be at the charity of the large areas.”Hise has previously filed CON repeal bills to no avail as the issue typically encounters tough resistance from hospital interests that are protected by the restrictions of the regime on competition such as private practice surgery centers. However, Hise said the hospitals would benefit from reform too and thinks CON reform is more viable in 2017.”I’m confident the general assembly is going to take major action on CON laws this session,” said Hise.