Certificate-of-Need Laws: Implications for Kentucky
Thirty-six states and the District of Columbia currently limit entry or expansion of health care facilities through certificate-of-need (CON) programs.
Thirty-six states and the District of Columbia currently limit entry or expansion of health care facilities through certificate-of-need (CON) programs. These programs prohibit health care providers from entering new markets or making changes to their existing capacity without first gaining the approval of state regulators. Since 1972, Kentucky has been among the states that restrict the supply of health care in this way, with 18 devices and services—including acute hospital beds, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and positron emission tomography (PET) scanners—requiring a certificate of need from the state before the device may be purchased or the service offered.
CON restrictions are in addition to the standard licensing and training requirements for medical professionals, but are neither designed nor intended to ensure public health or ensure that medical professionals have the necessary qualifications to do their jobs. Instead, CON laws are specifically designed to limit the supply of health care and are traditionally justified with the claim that they reduce and control health care costs. The theory is that by restricting market entry and expansion, states will reduce overinvestment in facilities and equipment. In addition, many states—including Kentucky—justify CON programs as a way to cross-subsidize health care for the poor. Under these “charity care” requirements providers that receive a certificate of need are typically required to increase the amount of care they provide to the poor. These programs intend to create quid pro quo arrangements: state governments restrict competition, increasing the cost of health care for some, and in return medical providers use these contrived profits to increase the care they provide to the poor.
However, these claimed benefits have failed to materialize as intended. Recent research by Thomas Stratmann and Jacob Russ demonstrates that there is no relationship between CON programs and increased access to health care for the poor. There are, however, serious consequences for continuing to enforce CON regulations. In particular, for Kentucky these programs could mean approximately 5,782 fewer hospital beds, between 9 and 18 fewer hospitals offering MRI services, and between 22 and 31 fewer hospitals offering computed tomography (CT) scans. For those seeking quality health care throughout Kentucky, this means less competition and fewer choices, without increased access to care for the poor.