How did we get here? America has struggled to balance access to hospital services with utilization, quality and price for the past 50 years. In the mid-1960’s, certificate of need laws were established to limit the supply of hospital beds and equipment, prevent overutilization of services, control costs and improve quality.
The evidence is now clear CON laws not only increase costs, but also restrict access for the underserved, especially in rural areas. Hospital bed access is expressed in the number of beds/1,000 population; on average, there are 3.62 beds/1,000 people in the United States. Recent studies by Strattman and Russ found states with CON laws have 1.31 fewer beds/1,000 overall. Kaiser Foundation found Washington and Oregon have the lowest bed ratios in the nation, at 1.7 beds/1,000, with Kitsap County having a woefully inadequate ration of 1.30 beds/1,000. In short, the evidence supports the fact that CON regulations worsen access for rural residents.
Phoebe-Putney Hospital vs. Lee County, Georgia: A Tale of Consolidation and a Little County That Could
Lee County is on their way to achieving something extraordinary; challenging the dominance of a hospital monopoly. On July 21, 2017, the CON application for Lee County was deemed complete by the Georgia Department of Community Health. A decision is anticipated by Nov. 15. If granted, the county plans to break ground on the new structure in early 2018. The CEO of Lee County Medical Center, Mr. G. Edward Alexander, stated “Our goal is to ensure that decisions for the hospital are made locally by people who live and work in Lee County.”
Success is never attained by taking shortcuts. We do not need reform of health care; we need to renovate the entire system. Special interests do not belong in the picture. They are superfluous to achieving innovative solutions that place profits on the back burner. Healthcare reform is like learning to discipline a tantrum-throwing 3-year-old; it will not conform to rhyme or reason. Congress is making this too difficult. They need to roll up their sleeves, go back to the drawing board, and start again.