The Consequences of Tennessee’s CON Laws


April 21, 2021 10:05AM

Getting a cancer diagnosis is stressful enough in itself. Imagine having to travel every day to get treatment for your illness because the government denied a facility close to your home. That’s exactly what my friend James M.* had to do last fall. 

Without a facility that could provide adequate treatment for his cancer near his home in Williamson County, he had to drive an hour round-trip to a nearby county to receive life-saving treatment. But his trip pales in comparison to other Tennesseans who travel much longer distances from rural areas to get their treatment. If you saw our video with Dr. Jeff Patton, he talks about those patients of his, some of whom drive upwards of three hours each day for radiation treatment. 

Many patients across Tennessee lack access to the care they need because of our certificate of need (CON) laws. CON laws require providers to prove an area has a deficiency in a certain service.  However, competitors can often show how they can supposedly meet market demand by getting a competitor’s application denied. Did you know that over the last three years, Tennessee’s CON board has denied 10.4% of the applications they were asked to consider? It doesn’t sound like much, but when you consider that each of the facilities that were denied could provide life-saving care to Tennesseans in the area, that number feels a little bigger. 

Patient care has come into the spotlight more than ever during the pandemic over the last year. But with that has come a focus on laws and regulations that are not contributing to positive patient outcomes. Governor Lee rolled back certificate of need regulations in an executive order last spring, which begs the question—if a law regulating health care isn’t necessary during a worldwide pandemic, why is it necessary at all? 

I only know one person who has had to travel for necessary cancer treatment, but James is not alone. Patients all across Tennessee are being inconvenienced and sometimes receiving less-than-ideal treatment for illnesses because of a lack of options. Now is the time to open up the market and give Tennessee patients and providers the options they deserve. 

*Name changed at the request of the individual.

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