A group of thirteen South Carolina senators – including the president of the chamber, its “Republican” majority leader and its most outspoken Democrat – are pushing for a legislative audit which would put the state’s controversial hospital regulations under a microscope.
As things currently stand in the Palmetto State, the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC) exerts tremendous influence over whether hospitals are allowed to expand or diversify their services. In fact, hospitals must bow to this self-described “regulatory regime” – called the Certificate of Need (CON) program – if they want to build new facilities, open new practices or buy certain types of new equipment.
According to SCDHEC, lawmakers passed the act to “promote cost containment, prevent unnecessary duplication of health care facilities and services, guide the establishment of health facilities and services which will best serve public need and ensure high quality services.”
Critics of the measure – including U.S. congresswoman Nancy Mace – have pushed to repeal the measure, arguing such a move would “break up the health care monopoly and unleash the free market” while “creating much needed competition, expanding access to high-quality health care and reducing costs for South Carolinians everywhere.”
In a letter sent earlier this week to the S.C. Legislative Audit Council (SCLAC), lawmakers asked this accountability agency to provide them with a wealth of information on the impact of the CON program as they “discuss the future” of this “regulatory regime.”
According to the letter (.pdf) – which was signed by Senate president Harvey Peeler and majority leader Shane Massey, among others – SCLAC auditors are asked to assess the program’s impact on “access to health care” in the Palmetto State. Specifically, auditors are asked to drill down into the program’s statutory authority in an effort to determine which “quality metrics” it is using to “evaluate health facilities” in South Carolina – including the program’s methodologies for assessing health care costs and defining what constitutes “unnecessary duplication.”
The tone of the questions makes clear that this is not going to be a particularly friendly probing …
“What justification is there for limited the supply of services that cannot be over-utilized?” Senators asked in one of their questions.
More ominously, one information request asks auditors to ascertain whether the program presented “barriers/ hurdles” to the delivery of health care services during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Earlier this year the Palmetto Promise think tank issued a report on the program, concluding that South Carolina has “one of the most restrictive CON programs in the nation.”
“Rather than market demand determining the supply, under CON laws, clinicians and medical facilities must seek approval from the state before purchasing or expanding services they provide to patients,” the report found. “Competitors can then delay and even prevent new facilities from being built through the CON process.
According to the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, certificate of need laws “restrict access to health care, make services more expensive, and undermine the quality of care.” Mercatus data revealed that certificate of need laws add $200 annually to per capita health care spending in the Palmetto State.
My news outlet has consistently opposed certificate of need laws.
“If a decision is left up to the government, then the beneficiary of that decision will invariably be some wealthy, well-connected special interest,” I wrote in a post five years ago. “The loser? The free market and consumers (like us) who rely on it to keep prices low.”
Accordingly, I support elected officials like Mace and these Senate leaders as they critically assess this program – and look forward to seeing what they uncover.
THE LETTER …
(Click to download)
(Via: S.C. Senate)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina and before that he was a bass player and a dive bar bouncer. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children. And yes, he has LOTS of hats (including the above-pictured Toronto Blue Jays’ lid).
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