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Focusing on real solutions to expand access to care

BY JUSTIN OWEN

May 24, 2021 12:18PM

For years, proponents of expanding government health insurance have consistently and repeatedly criticized state leaders and groups like Beacon for opposing what we have proven to be an unaffordable and immoral Medicaid expansion. Despite failing to advance expansion in Tennessee, they have made this their exclusive focus for increasing access to care in communities across our state. We on the other hand have moved on to real solutions that actually work. 

Last year, we highlighted the need for increasing access to telehealth in the wake of the pandemic, which lawmakers addressed in an August special session. And just a few weeks ago, legislators passed a sweeping reform to our certificate of need (CON) laws. CON laws require government permission to add almost any new service, and the process virtually gives their competitors a veto over their ability to expand. Prior to the pandemic, for example, providers couldn’t even add a new hospital bed without first obtaining a CON. Had Gov. Lee not suspended this regulation to fight COVID-19, we almost certainly would have exceeded bed capacity at its peak. If you have to suspend a bad regulation during an emergency, why on earth does that regulation need to exist in good times? 

Because the pandemic exposed how ridiculous these laws were, legislators made it a top priority this session to repeal many of them. No longer must hospitals obtain permission to add a new bed, and services like MRI machines can be added without a CON in more communities. Distressed counties struggling to provide affordable care to their citizens won’t require a CON for any service whatsoever. For the CONs that remain, competitors no longer have the upper hand. Previously, our CON laws were structured in a way that’s akin to requiring Chick-fil-a to get permission from McDonald’s to open across the street. Obtaining a CON is now far cheaper with greater fairness. And the head of the agency overseeing this process has been tasked with completely eliminating all of the protectionist aspects of CON in the coming years.  

On the heels of this reform, one company is increasing its efforts to reopen closed rural hospitals across Tennessee. While the data shows that Medicaid expansion at best delays inevitable hospital closures by a year or two versus non-expansion states, this remains one of the chief complaints of Medicaid expansion advocates. On the other hand, eliminating CON has proven to work. So while the far Left continues to waste ink with what seems like weekly opinion articles decrying the failure of the governor and legislators to expand Medicaid and basically insinuating if not outright calling them murderers, we’re getting to work actually expanding access to quality care for Tennesseans in need.