S.C. health care providers say ‘certificate of need’ veto leaves them in limbo

abeam@thestate.comJune 26, 2013 

— While state law requires hospitals and nursing homes to get state approval before expanding or adding services, state lawmakers deleted the funding for that approval process on Tuesday -- leaving state officials and health care providers confused over what happens next.

“Right now, we are in a situation where the law is neither funded nor repealed,” said Mark Plowden, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Environmental Control, the state agency that oversees the program. “We heard the direction of our Executive and Legislative branches today, and we are working to determine how to implement their instruction.”

DHEC had 32 Certificate of Need applications pending for projects in 15 counties worth $86.4 million, according to the latest update on the Department of Health and Environmental Control’s website. The projects included construction of a 16-bed inpatient hospice facility in Laurens County, a $7.9 million expansion of the radiation treatment facility at Lexington Medical Center and $2.6 million for Palmetto Health Baptist to renovate for a new MRI machine.

The law requiring health care providers to get state approval for those projects still stands. But House lawmakers on Wednesday voted to cut the $1.7 million that DHEC uses to process those applications by upholding Gov. Nikki Haley’s vetoes.

In asking lawmakers to uphold Haley’s veto, House Ways and Means chairman Brian White, R-Anderson, said DHEC has “other funds in that agency they can use and move other people over for that purpose.”

But Plowden, the DHEC spokesman, said: “The Director testified before the General Assembly this year that the agency would not, and could not, administer unfunded mandates.”

“It’s very confusing and you know we’re very concerned about how this process will be handled at DHEC,” said Randy Lee, president of the South Carolina Health Care Association that represents the state’s 190 nursing homes. “It can have a very negative impact on expansion and we’re very concerned about it.”

This is the second consecutive year Haley -- who once worked for Lexington Medical Center -- has vetoed the funding for the certificate of need program.

“The Certificate of Need program is an intensely political one through which bureaucratic policymakers deny new healthcare providers from offering treatment,” Haley wrote in her veto message. “We should allow the market to work rather than politics.”

Allan Stalvey, executive vice president for the South Carolina Hospital Association, said he did not think DHEC could pay for the program with other money in their budget because “the legislature , who is responsible for appropriating funds, which means directing how funds are spent, specifically said now we don’t want any money spent on the Certificate of Need program.”

“Just about everybody else in the state recognizes the value of the Certificate of Need program except (Gov. Haley),” Stalvey said. “Expansion in the health care market means expansion of jobs, capital investment, all those type things. So she has in essence shut that down.”

Reach Beam at (803) 386-7038.

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