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Contra CON: Less health-care meddling

March 12. 2012 8:56PM

If this Republican Legislature is supposed to reduce the state's regulatory burdens to promote economic growth, then it should reject the committee report on House Bill 1617, a bill to change the state's Certificate of Need (CON) law.

The original version of HB 1617 would have abolished the CON law. This legislative relic of the 1970s authorizes the state's CON board, which has the power and authority to approve or disapprove large medical purchases and procedures. If a hospital wants a new CT Scan machine, it has to receive CON board approval first. The idea is that a board of state bureaucrats will keep health care prices down by limiting the supply of medical care.

The law is economic idiocy. That is why some representatives wanted to kill it. Allowing greater competition in the health care market is a better way to lower prices. But the House Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee managed to turn the bill in the opposite direction. Instead of reducing regulatory interference in the market, the amended version of HB 1617 expands it. The revised bill extends the state moratorium on nursing home beds (restricting supply though New Hampshire's elderly population is rapidly growing) and expands the CON law to cover doctor's offices. If it passes, your primary care doctor would have to get state approval for a large equipment purchase. Who would oppose your doctor buying a machine to help him better diagnose his patients? Any nearby hospital that already has a similar machine. That's the way the CON process works.

House leadership supports the original bill over the amended version. If the state is going to go in one direction or the other, it would be better for consumers of health care services - that is, everyone - to move toward a less heavily regulated, more competitive marketplace than toward a more heavily regulated, less-competitive one.

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