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Senate Health and Human Resources Committee considers future of Health Care Authority

By Lexi Browning

For the West Virginia Press Association

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Proposed legislation that could repeal the Health Care Authority and the Certificate of Need (CON) programs sparked a debate Tuesday in the Senate Health and Human Resources Committee.

The legislation – SB 457 – is sponsored by Majority Leader Sen. Ryan Ferns, R-Ohio. Sen. Tom Takubo, R-Kanawha, co-sponsored the bill.

Sen. Ryan Ferns

The Health Care Authority, initially established as the Health Care Cost Review Authority, was founded as a state agency in the early 1980s by the legislature. If passed, the legislation would eliminate the Health Care Authority by Dec. 1 and the CON program July 1.

According to the HCA website, the programs aim to “control healthcare costs, improve the quality of the healthcare system, encourage collaboration and develop a system of healthcare delivery which makes health services available to all residents of the state.”

Sen. Ferns said his goal in sponsoring the legislation was to eliminate the need to request the HCA’s permission before healthcare providers could invest in new equipment or update and expand facilities.

“The state determines if there is enough need before they will allow that private investment to take place,” Ferns said. “If this legislation becomes law, healthcare providers will be able to make decisions on how to make investments based on what they feel makes the most sense without the government making that decision for them.”

Sen. Mike Maroney

The bill itself, Ferns said, was “prompted by the success” of streamlining the CON process and the legislative audit in 2016, which “determined that the CON law was not achieving its intended purposed to keep healthcare costs down and increase access to care.”

“Constituents will benefit from decreased healthcare costs, increased access to care and improved quality in the healthcare that naturally results when competition is increased,” Ferns said.

Ferns said despite the arguments made during the meeting, the independent research spoke for itself.

“There is extensive research, which overwhelmingly supports the concept that repealing the CON law in other states has resulted in improved quality of care and outcomes,” Ferns said. “The Federal Trade Commission, U.S. Department of Justice, Mercatus Center at George Mason University, the American Medical Association and WV’s own Legislative Auditor’s office have done independent research and come up with the same results.”

Sen. Mike Maroney, R-Marshall, voiced his opposition to the bill, citing his decades of experience working in a medical profession.

“I have a lot to say, but I’m going to save a lot of it for the floor because I know where this is going already,” Maroney said. “But West Virginia is unique, especially districts one and two with their geography: if you go to Wetzel County Hospital above Weirton Medical Center, you’ll pass four hospitals on our side in the 16 mile stretch. These are big employers in these areas.

Maroney said although he understood both perspectives, the bill made him uncomfortable.

“Personally, I could benefit more financially as an individual if this passed, but you’ll find that a lot of substandard care sprouts up when the market becomes diluted,” Maroney said. “The quality of care decreases. We’ve become lumpers instead of splitters to push as much of the agenda through as possible. This just bothers me.”

Sen. Tom Takubo

Sen. Takubo made a motion to lay over the bill, which he called an “emotionally-charged topic.” Before adjournment, Takubo added: “I do not want to rush this issue.”

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