Under the Dome

NC House bill aims to reduce healthcare regulations

Rep. Marilyn Avila has filed legislation to reduce regulation facing health care facilities, arguing a change is needed to improve patient options and lower costs.

House Bill 200 is similar to a bill Avila, a Raleigh Republican, filed last session. The previous bill would have launched a study of the changes; that measure passed the House by a large margin but stalled in the Senate. Her new proposal changes the Certificate of Need process, the state permit required for opening a new healthcare facility.

Under Avila’s bill, a CON wouldn’t be required to open a psychiatric facility, ambulatory service center or diagnostic center. Ambulatory service centers could be owned by hospitals, doctors or for-profit company; they provide outpatient procedures that typically cost less than similar services at hospitals. The CON often forces healthcare providers to compete for the permit to open a new facility.

Avila co-sponsored the bill with Democratic Rep. Mickey Michaux of Durham; both were joined by the conservative group Americans For Prosperity at a news conference Wednesday.

“We want to bring down the cost of healthcare and medical care in this state, and the way to do that is put it on a competitive basis,” Michaux said, adding that the bill will likely face opposition from hospitals. “I know I’m going to get a lot of flak from the big hospital I’ve got in my district.”

Julie Henry, a spokeswoman for the N.C. Hospital Association, said her group opposes the bill because it could harm uninsured patients. The association argues that looser regulations would allow doctors to perform profitable procedures outside hospitals. That could avoid the charity care requirement hospitals face.

“By creating exceptions to the CON law, the General Assembly is endorsing ‘cherry-picking’ of privately insured patients,” Henry said. “Just 24 percent of hospital patients are privately insured. Opening the door to carve-outs will reduce hospitals’ ability to fulfill our mission to care for everyone in our communities.”

On Wednesday, the House leadership assigned Avila’s bill to be debated in three committees before it reaches the full chamber for a vote.