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State CON laws are outdated

An archaic state law fuels the fire of what has been dubbed “Natchez’s medical arms race.”

In the latest battle is the legal bickering between Natchez Regional Medical Center and Natchez Community Hospital over who will get a heart catheterization laboratory.

In Mississippi, health care facilities must obtain state approval before the construction of hospitals or large facility improvements or equipment purchases.

The intent of the “certificate of need” law was to help prevent hospitals from duplicating services and adding unnecessary equipment that would eventually raise customers’ costs.

But back in the 1960s and 1970s when such CON rules were formed, our health care system was not as highly regulated as it is today.

Rather than lower costs, the CON process may accelerate costs by making a race to see who can get new technology first and thus gain the precious state-mandated CON, which can, in effect, block competition and harm consumers.

Our community is somewhat unique, positioned on the border of Mississippi and Louisiana — a state with no CON laws.

Kaiser Family Foundation statistics from 2004 show the hospital care expenditures per capita were $2,034 in Louisiana and $2,119 in Mississippi. While certainly not definitive proof against CON laws, those number show the lack of CON in Louisiana certainly has not allowed hospitals to run amok.

Perhaps Mississippi lawmakers should consider reforming the antiquated CON requirement. Who knows, if we take the “specialness” out of the arms race, both sides may eventually realize they should focus first on the patients and not on the race for the new health care “weapon.”