NC Temporarily Lifts Caps on Number of Hospital Beds. Why Do We Have Caps on Hospital Beds?

RALEIGH – One obvious benefit of declaring a state of emergency is the federal funding it facilitates to help cushion the fiscal blow. Another, often more important, is all the red tape is cuts away so that the private sector can innovate in the face of whatever emergency is facing us. In the case of a viral epidemic like the Wuhan virus, that means clearing the way for healthcare providers to make the necessary adjustments in order to accept a surge of sick patients. One of the limiting factors in our current situation is the number of hospital beds in facilities across the state, and whether or not these resources will be overwhelmed.

The recent emergency declaration by the governor temporarily lifted the cap on the number of hospital beds a facility can add without ASKING THE STATE FOR PERMISSION FIRST.

North Carolina laws and their supporting bureaucrats limit the number of hospital beds. It’s called Certificate of Need, and it is anathema to increasing access to, and lowering prices of healthcare in good times. It is a negative factor in very real issues of life and death during a pandemic.

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From the Carolina Journal’s Julie Havlak:

“[…] The rule said hospitals couldn’t add more than 10% of their licensed bed capacity without state approval. The department’s decision made the first crack in the state’s Certificate of Need laws in decades, despite the legislature’s yearly attempts to overhaul the state caps on medical buildings and equipment.

DHHS waived the regulation “to allow the hospital to provide temporary shelter and temporary services to adequately care for patients that may be stricken by COVID-19.” […]

Now hospitals can temporarily add and relocate beds into any space that meets federal safety requirements. The rule change targets patients infected with coronavirus, and patients who need to be moved to accommodate an influx of coronavirus patients.

Experts feared CON laws would slow hospitals’ ability to treat patients if a coronavirus outbreak overwhelmed the state’s health care system.

Before NCDHHS suspended the rules, hospitals couldn’t add or relocate acute care beds without applying for a CON. Applying for a CON can cost as much as $500,000, and the state board which grants CONs doesn’t meet for months. […]”

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If you wonder why healthcare is expensive, why the providers are limited; this is one reason why. How asinine is it that it take a literal worldwide pandemic breathing down our necks here in North Carolina for the bureaucrats to release their iron-fisted grip on controlling your access to healthcare?

Making these adjustments overnight with a temporary reprieve from CON isn’t easy. The added capacity could have been building up over the last 30 years. Take Hoke County, example, where they have just over 40 beds for a county of 41,000 residents. Their application for a CON to open a larger hospital was denied by the state bureaucrats.

Why must any physician or healthcare provider, that meets state and federal safety requirements, ask permission from the State to expand their offerings. Beds, scanning equipment like MRIs, X-ray machines, surgery rooms — all such expansions require getting the blessing of the State.

Worse, still, the bureaucracy is staffed with representatives from the healthcare industry that are also likely competitors to whoever is applying for a Certificate of Need. Want to open a new surgery center, or buy a few MRI machines to offer the community more quality options, perhaps at lower prices? You’ll have to get the nod from those providers that you’ll be competing with first. Guess what? They aren’t keen to green-light new competition, which means you as a consumer of healthcare have fewer options and higher prices.

It is tantamount to requiring CVS get permission from the local Walgreens before opening a new store across the street and North Carolina lawmakers have protected this regime for years. If we learn anything from the scourge of the Wuhan virus, and there is a lot to learn, hopefully one of the lessons we take from this is that government over-regulation is a hindrance to our well-being, our safety, our prosperity.

When the state legislature returns for it’s spring session, one of the first things they should do is make this temporary move permanent and then repeal CON laws in their entirety.

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