Initiative to repeal hospital Certificate of Need rules stymied

Posted: Friday, April 18, 2008

Gov. Sarah Palin frightened Alaska hospitals when she proposed repealing Certificate of Need regulations that many say help them stay in business. Palin's legislative allies, however, were unable to get floor votes in either the House or Senate this year.

The defeat of CON repeal is good news for Bartlett Regional Hospital and others around the state who feared it would allow their most profitable services to be lost to new competition, and threaten their ability to provide emergency room and other critical services that don't pay for themselves.

"We're very pleased that repeal of CON didn't make it through," said Shawn Morrow, CEO of Bartlett Regional Hospital in Juneau.

Palin criticized CON regulations when running for office as being an unwarranted interference with business and had proposed doing away with the regulations when she proposed a package of health care reforms at the start of the 2008 legislative session.

The Legislature's inaction on the bills left the Department of Health and Social Services with no more legislative direction than it had last year, said Sherry Hill, assistant commissioner for public affairs.

"We'll evaluate what we are doing and decide what we need to do to move forward," Hill said.

Another victim of the stalemate over CON was Palin's proposed Health Care Transparency Act, which would have required more information about health care costs be made public.

CON repeal was part of that bill, and both died.

Morrow said there were few objections to the transparency provisions in the Alaska medical community, and he thought they were a good idea.

"There were some good elements in the transparency initiative that was put in the bill," Morrow said. "I personally thought it was a very good way to promote access to information for consumers."

The only issue that Bartlett Regional Hospital's board has a position on was CON, however, he said.

"The effect would have been to really weaken the community hospital we have here," he said.

In 2007 a task force spent the summer studying ways to improve the CON process and trying to prevent lawsuits. Morrow said that process should maybe be renewed.

"I think we all want less litigation in the CON process," he said.

Hill said the department will be reviewing the legislation that failed to pass, including additional proposals made during the session to decide what to propose for next session.

• Contact reporterPat Forgey at 523-2250 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.





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