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(The Center Square) – Three bills that would make permanent Gov. Henry McMaster’s emergency order suspending a state hospital regulation critics say increases health care costs have gained little traction during South Carolina’s legislative session.

With lawmakers set to leave Columbia at the end of next week, Americans for Prosperity-South Carolina (AFP-SC) and others are calling on lawmakers to get legislation repealing the state’s “burdensome” certificate-of-need (CON) laws onto floors to be adopted and sent to McMaster’s desk.

CON regulations require health care providers to obtain permission from a state panel to open or expand services in specific areas.

South Carolina’s 1971 CON regulations require the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) evaluate building plans and medical equipment purchases to determine which services are necessary to address community medical needs.

CON regulations nationwide are been labeled by economists as anti-competitive. In South Carolina, critics long have claimed CON regulations give the DHEC far too much leverage in routinely blocking new health care providers from offering services across the state, especially in rural and underserved communities.

McMaster suspended South Carolina’s CON regulations as the COVID-19 pandemic emerged last March so hospitals would not need DHEC permission to offer more hospital beds.

The AFP-SC is leading a late-session campaign to make McMaster’s emergency order permanent.

“Last year, we saw how Gov. McMaster’s temporary suspension of our state’s burdensome certificate-of-need-laws saved South Carolinians’ lives during this public health crisis,” AFP-SC Interim State Director Candace Carroll said in a statement. “When we remove unnecessary red tape, our health care system can better help patients get the care they need and deserve.”

A Mercatus Center study in 2020 found if South Carolina permanently repealed its CON regulations, state residents would have access to 34 additional hospitals, including nine in underserved rural areas, 12 additional ambulatory surgery centers and 6,331 more hospital beds.

The Mercatus study also estimated South Carolina would suffer 5.1% fewer deaths as a result of post-surgery complications without its CON regulations.

“It’s time to stop the practice of forcing health professionals and facilities to get a permission slip from the government and other health facilities to deliver more care,” Carroll said. “We are urging South Carolinians to contact their lawmakers and tell them they should not miss this opportunity to end this overregulation that has put access to quality, affordable care out of reach for too many.”

Three bills in the South Carolina Legislature address CON repeal, including Senate Bill 290, the proposed State Health Facility Licensure Act, which would eliminate references to CON requirements in state law.

The measure was filed in December by Sen. Wes Climer, R-York, and 10 cosponsors and has not advanced through the Senate Medical Affairs Committee.

SB 290’s House companion, House Bill 3161, filed in December by Rep. Bill Taylor, R-Aiken, and 19 cosponsors, has not advanced through the House Medical, Military, Public and Municipal Affairs Committee.

In a fiscal note analysis of HB 3161, the DHEC reported hospitals pay, on average, $560,813 in state CON fees annually and “based on past experience and estimates from other states, the elimination of the CON program will increase licensure applications from health care facilities.”

House Bill 3223, also filed in December by Rep. Sylleste Davis, R-Berkeley, and 21 cosponsors, is a similar CON repeal measure and remains unheard before the House Medical, Military, Public and Municipal Affairs Committee.