The Fatal Danger of CON Laws

December 2, 2016

A few weeks back, we introduced you to South Carolina’s Certificate of Need laws (CON). CON laws require healthcare providers to gain approval from the state’s healthcare planning agency before making any major capital expenditure, which gives the state final say in the placement of health facilities, expansion of current facilities and even the purchase of new medical equipment. Decisions are based on the “need” of the community.

By adding bureaucratic red tape—and by allowing special-interests to have a say in the process—CON laws choke healthcare growth into rural communities, increase costs of care and even lower quality of care. That CON laws actually decrease quality of healthcare is alarming, considering CON laws’ chief justification is to increase quality of care.

Perhaps the most startling indicator of lower-healthcare quality is that CON laws are associated with higher mortality rates, according to Mercatus Center data. This data reveals that “the average 30-day mortality rate for patients with pneumonia, heart failure and heart attacks who were discharged from hospitals in CON states was 2.5% to 5% higher than that of their non-CON-state counterparts. The largest difference is in deaths following a serious-postsurgery complication, with an average of six more deaths per 1,000 patient discharges in CON states.”

This data caught our eye for sure, but it also grabbed the attention of our friends in North Carolina who—just like South Carolina—have CON laws on their books. So the Carolina Journal reached out to Christopher Koopman who helped author the latest Mercatus Center study on CON laws.

When asked about the negative effects North Carolina experienced as a result of CON laws, Mr. Koopman said that it “should come as a siren to health care reformers that this is more than dollars. This is more than the health care prices and health care spending. These are real human lives on the line.” He explained further that even though North Carolina didn’t figure directly into the study, “the key finding of the paper is still something that North Carolina policymakers and people interested in health care reform should take note of.”

Just like our North Carolina neighbors, the Palmetto State should take notice. Yes, repealing South Carolina’s CON laws would help increase healthcare options and lower healthcare costs. But of far greater importance is keeping South Carolinians safe. To repeat Mr. Koopman: “these are real human lives on the line.”

It’s time for South Carolina lawmakers to examine the facts and make healthcare more accessible, more affordable and more safe by repealing South Carolina’s CON laws.