For 28 years, the residents of Short Gap, West Virginia, depended on the Hunt Club Urgent Care facility when they had a medical emergency. Unfortunately, just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the state shut down the facility, leaving residents an additional 30- to 45-minute drive from emergency care.
The facility has since reopened, but its temporary closure was an example of needless red tape standing in the way of access to care during a crisis.
The state didn’t shut down the Hunt Club Urgent Care because there was a problem with the facility. Rather, a competitor objected to the facility receiving a certificate of need. Certificate-of-need laws force health care providers to get a permission slip from government proving that their community “needs” a service before expanding services or capacity in their communities. This means an unelected state board can arbitrarily deny our hometown medical providers the ability to meet a need they see in their community.
What’s more, the competitors of these providers can file an objection to their certificate-of-need application, in an attempt to hurt their competition. This is failed big-government central planning and, in a state were 53 of 55 counties have health care shortages, blocking or slowing down additional care is unacceptable.
Sen. Richard Lindsay, D-Kanawha, recently argued for the continuation of the state’s certificate-of-need program. Lindsay argues that certificate-of-need laws keep health care decisions in the community, but I disagree. Those decisions are made by unelected government bureaucrats.
Certificate-of-need laws have served only to reduce the availability of essential health care choices, increase medical costs and lower the quality of care. The certificate-of-need board has prevented 27 new hospitals and ambulatory surgery centers from opening in West Virginia. A report by the Koch Industries-founded Mercatus Center at George Mason University found that “there are 30% fewer total hospitals per capita in states with a certificate-of-need program when compared to those that do not have a certificate-of-need program.”
Rural areas of our state, already most at risk of having limited access to care, are most disadvantaged by these laws, as the report found, “certificate-of-need programs are associated with fewer rural hospitals.”
In addition to limited access to care, with less competition, there is less incentive for existing health care providers to provide innovative, affordable, quality health care.
A working paper from the Mercatus Center cites national statistics showing people suffering from pneumonia, heart attacks and heart failures are more likely to die in states with certificate-of-need barriers. States with certificate-of-need laws have 5% higher per-capita health care costs, according to this research. In instances where certificate-of-need laws allow for only one hospital to provide services to an area, patients are forced to pay 15% higher prices for care.
West Virginia is one of 36 states with certificate-of-need laws. During the pandemic, 24 states rightly suspended their certificate-of-need laws, to give their hometown medical professionals the flexibility necessary to meet the increased demand, saving lives. Sadly, states that enforced certificate-of-need laws in that time, including West Virginia, experienced 100 additional deaths for every 100,000 residents, according to a 2020 article from conservative media outlet The Center Square. Even now, our hospitals are facing crowding, but they are unable to act quickly to adapt because of certificate-of-need barriers holding them back.
The certificate-of-need program in West Virginia leaves patients further from the care they need and paying more for it. It leaves the community health care providers hamstrung by red tape and unable to compete with larger facilities, who can play a part in denying their certificate-of-need applications, depriving communities of innovative health care solutions.
Lawmakers should work quickly to fully repeal all state certificate-of-need laws and allow our trusted medical providers to meet the needs they see in their communities, without archaic certificate-of-need barriers in the way.