The S.C. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a lawsuit over whether the state could end a program that regulates whether medical facilities, including some in the Lowcountry, can be built or expanded.
Gov. Nikki Haley vetoed $1.7 million for the Certificate of Need program in June, and the Department of Health and Environmental Control suspended the program for one year.
Certificate of Need is a program used by state government to regulate the number of hospitals and hospital beds around the state. Supporters of the program, including the State Hospital Association, said it is needed to keep costly medical services or hospital beds from going unused and also ensures that rural communities keep access to health care.
State law still requires medical facilities to acquire a Certificate of Need from DHEC before building, expanding, offering a new service or buying medical equipment costing more than $600,000 even though DHEC has no funding to administer the program.
Without having to meet CON approval, medical expansion could proceed for one year, but there is confusion over what comes after that period is up.
Haley has said that her veto effectively ended the program. She has said that companies should have to seek government approval for business decisions. But legislators who upheld her veto said they were only upholding the suspension of funding for the program for a year, not ending the state law. They say they need to vote to repeal the law.
Groups, including the Hospital Association, sued over the confusion, saying the law requiring the review is still on the books and can’t be suspended just because DHEC didn’t set aside money to pay for it.
DHEC asked the Supreme Court to decide whether the agency could suspend the program. The justices agreed Friday to look at the case.
About three dozen projects worth about $100 million were being reviewed by DHEC when Haley vetoed the program’s funding.
Locally, Roper St. Francis Healthcare and Trident Health System are locked in a legal battle to build a hospital in Berkeley County because the state initially granted both permission to build a facility there in 2009. Trident has argued that only one is needed.
Officials with the Medical University Hospital Authority and Roper St. Francis have questioned how the uncertainty of the future of the Certificate of Need program will impact funding for future expansion programs.
The order from the Supreme Court gives DHEC 30 days to write its argument and the groups that sued over the decision at least 30 days to respond. The justices said they will let both sides know if arguments before the court will be needed.