A state senator has pre-filed legislation that would restore funding for a South Carolina program required for hospitals seeking to build or expand services.
For years, hospitals must get what is known as a Certificate of Need (CON) in order to expand or make a major equipment purchase. The purpose was to prove that a need existed in the community. But the process has very unpopular among state lawmakers because it often pits competing hospitals against each other. Gov. Nikki Haley vetoed the Certificate of Need program this summer and the House upheld it.
But, even though funding was vetoed, the law requiring a CON still remains on the books. State Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Columbia, said hospitals have stopped any new projects over the past five months in response.
“This has created massive chaos in the marketplace for hospitals who were on the verge of expanding,” he told South Carolina Radio Network. “There’s close to $200 million worth of expansion work that is literally just sitting on a desk right now until we can get the program up and running.”
Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) director Catherine Templeton has suspended the CON requirement, but health providers sued the agency to get clarification from a judge. The state Supreme Court heard arguments this fall, but has not yet made a ruling.
Lourie’s proposed resolution would order DHEC to transfer other funds to operate the program. He said the current structure is having economically disastrous results.
“It’s basically like saying we have a law that requires you to have a driver’s license… but we’re not operating the offices that allow you to come in and get your driver’s license,” Lourie said.
South Carolina Hospital Associaion Executive Vice President Allan Stalvey said his organization appreciates Lourie’s resolution, but would prefer lawmakers instead take up a bill that reforms the CON process entirely. S.568, which he called a “major priority” has been held up on the Senate floor since April.
“At this point in time… there’s been no indication on when the Supreme Court would come back with a decision,” Stalvey said. “It could be next month. It could be six months.”