SC hospitals, nursing homes sue state agency over Haley veto

abeam@thestate.comJuly 18, 2013 

Gov. Nikki Haley

TIM DOMINICK — tdominick@thestate.com Buy Photo

Read the complaint at the bottom of this story

The state of South Carolina’s plan to not enforce a key health-care law “threatens imminent harm” to the public, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday before the state Supreme Court.

A group of 12 hospitals, nursing homes and health-care associations sued the state Department of Health and Environmental Control over its decision to stop enforcing the certificate-of-need law. Health department chief Catherine Templeton made the decision after Gov. Nikki Haley vetoed the money that the agency uses to enforce the law. The state House of Representatives upheld Haley’s veto.

Since then, House Republican leaders have said they “did not intend to eliminate” the certificate-of-need program. Instead, they say they wanted the state health agency to use other money in its budget to pay for program.

But Templeton interpreted the veto to mean the program no longer exists, saying her agency “would not, and could not, administer unfunded mandates.”

No S.C. hospital or nursing home can open — or buy new equipment — without first getting a certificate of need from the health agency. Hospitals and nursing homes say that still is the law, regardless of whether the Health and Environmental Control enforces it.

In its lawsuit, the health-care group asks the court to say it is against the law for the state agency to not enforce the law. The group says Health and Environmental Control has multiple ways to pay for the certificate-of-need program, including charging and collecting fees, making intra-agency transfers and working with the state Budget and Control Board to seek “supplemental appropriations and other deficit-resolving measures.”

The health-care providers contend Haley’s veto also eliminated state funding for several other Health and Environmental Control programs, including the certificates of public advantage that oversee the merger of health-care entities and a program that reviews architectural plans of health-care facilities to ensure they meet safety standards. But the health agency continues to enforce those programs.

A Health and Environmental Control spokesman said the agency is reviewing the lawsuit. The agency has already filed its own lawsuit before the Supreme Court in an attempt to clarify the confusion.

Normally, parties have to file lawsuits in lower state circuit courts. Circuit court decisions can be appealed to the state Court of Appeals and, ultimately, the Supreme Court. But in this case, both Health and Environmental Control and the health-care providers have asked the Supreme Court to hear the case directly, bypassing the lower courts in order to get the case resolved quickly.

Thirty-six states had some type of certificate-of-need program, as of December 2011, according to a review by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

However, the program is controversial in South Carolina. Opponents say it stifles competition, while supporters say it keeps health-care costs down by ensuring expensive services are not duplicated and ensures higher quality care.

Complaint Pedmont Et Al vs SC DHEC by thestate

Reach Beam at (803) 386-7038.

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