Local lawmakers are calling for an end to the certificate of need process

JONESBOROUGH, Tenn. (WJHL) Three Northeast Tennessee lawmakers publicly called for an end to the state’s certificate of need law, after passing reforms this legislative session.

State Reps. David Hawk (R-Greeneville), Timothy Hill (R-Bloutnville) and Bud Hulsey (R-Kingsport) answered questions about health care policy as part of a panel hosted by Americans for Prosperity on Saturday. The event focused primarily on the Certificates of Need (CON) process, a state review channel that is required to open most healthcare facilities in the state.

Opening the event, Hawk highlighted both the NOC reform that the legislature passed this session and his hopes for the future of politics.

“For our region of Tennessee, it is very important that the certificate should be scaled back and eventually repealed because there is a certain lack of services, there are some thoughts that we need other options in our region and the ability to find attention”, he added. Hawk said.

The Legislature is already working to reduce the CON process, passing a bill that would allow some medical facilities, including certain satellite emergency departments, to open without receiving a CON.

An earlier version of the bill would have loosened those rules, making it easier for competitors to open hospitals in Ballad Health’s service area. This part of the bill was removed before it was passed.

Ballad leaders told News Channel 11 in a statement they were pleased with the version of the bill that passed.

Ultimately, the Legislature has debated for several years and passed thoughtful reforms to CON, all with our support,” said Ballad CEO Alan Levine. “We were pleased to support this year’s changes, and we believe the Legislature carefully considered what would happen to rural regions if safety net hospitals failed.

Hawk and his colleagues argue that ending the NOC would completely improve health care in the region by making room for more competition.

“We need some changes across the state of Tennessee in the way the certificate of need is made to allow our citizens with their health care patients to go see their doctors in any hospital setting they want to need,” he said. Hawk on News Channel 11.

Ballad has successfully lobbied the state for the ability to object to new health facilities as part of the CON process; however, Levine said in an email that no organization has applied to build a new hospital since it was awarded the monopoly in 2018.

Asked if the system would approve a full repeal of the CON process, Levine said, in part:

As with any proposed legislation, we should make sure the public understands the benefits and potential consequences of whatever is proposed. One thing we do know is that our communities would prefer to see their hospitals open. And we will support efforts to make sure that happens.

– Alan Levine, CEO of Ballad Health

Neither Hawk nor Hulsey called for a complete end to Ballad’s COPA, despite their claims that it could improve health care in the region.

Ballad’s monopoly was granted through a “Certificate of Public Advantage” (COPA), which protected Ballad from federal antitrust lawsuits as long as they met certain conditions.

“I want Ballad to succeed because I don’t know what our alternatives are,” Hulsey told the crowd.

Still, Hawk says creating room for competition is the path to improvement.

“In theory, if you dissolve COPA today, you might not have a hospital to go to tomorrow,” Hawk said. So there needs to continue to be a safety net, but also the ability to allow other health professionals to come into the region, start a hospital or start one of those hospitals or medical services.”

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