South Carolina suspends CON over budget concerns

In a move rarely seen on the state level, South Carolina has suspended its certificate of need (CON) program, an action seen as either a boost for hospital construction or a catalyst for rising healthcare costs.

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) suspended the CON program for one year as of June 28, reported The Post and Courier. The suspension came as the state Legislature voted to defund the program, an action supported by Gov. Nikki Haley.

"This is not a novel idea--14 other states don't have CON programs. We have long pushed for the removal of CON and we appreciate members of the House agreeing with us that it is time to change the statute and permanently rid our state of this political obstacle to quality care," Haley said in a statement, The Post and Courier reported.

The suspension has already resulted in litigation--the DHEC filed a lawsuit asking the state Supreme Court for an opinion, according to The Times and Democrat.

Meanwhile, some hospital firms are already exploring their options. According to The Times and Democrat, the HCA-owned Colleton Medical Center is moving forward with plans for a freestanding emergency medical care facility in Bamberg County, whose only hospital closed last year.

However, South Carolina Hospital Association Senior Vice President James Walker told WLTX that not having a CON program costs more money in the long run.

 "You had unnecessary duplication and somebody has to pay for that. That meant then the healthcare costs, mainly of insurance, but also for anybody accessing services, that cost kept growing and growing," Walker said.

That concern was also echoed by George Zara, chief executive officer of Providence Hospital in Columbia, S.C.. Zara shared with WLTX his experiences in Colorado, which does not have a CON law.

"When the economy slowed up, you had tons of companies go bankrupt, turn their backs on programs and services they brought to communities because the economic model had overcapacity and it didn't work," he said.

To learn more:
- read The Post and Courier article
- check out The Times and Democrat article
- here's the WLTX article