In documents obtained by The Associated Press and filed with the high court, attorneys for the Department of Health and Environmental Control said that the agency’s pending request that the court consider the Certificate of Need is the appropriate venue to debate the issue.
The health department suspended the program in June after the Legislature did not override Gov. Nikki Haley’s veto of $1.7 million to run it. Haley has said she thinks it’s an impediment to the free market and is no longer needed.
The House sustained Haley’s veto after Ways and Means Chairman Brian White took the floor and said the veto was just about the money, not whether the program should continue.
Since that debate, House Republicans have said they did not intend to nix the program entirely.
Hospitals and health care associations have asked the Supreme Court to order the agency to reinstate the program, which regulates whether new medical facilities can be built, hospitals can expand and doctors can buy expensive equipment.
In papers filed last week, groups including the South Carolina Hospital Association said not having the program constitutes an “imminent harm” to the public.
But DHEC had already asked justices for an opinion on suspending the program, and it’s that request, the agency argued Friday, that should be the venue to debate the issue.
“There is nothing hypothetical about the department’s effort to obtain from this court the ultimate authoritative resolution of these questions of public importance,” DHEC’s attorneys wrote. “Instead of waiting to be sued by members of the regulated community, the department took the initiative by seeking immediate resolution of this concrete controversy at the highest level.”
When DHEC Director Catherine Templeton halted the program in June, the department was reviewing 32 projects expected to cost more than $100 million. They range from adding four patient beds at a mental health and substance abuse center in Charleston, at a cost of just $20,600, to spending $12.3 million to build a fourth floor for patients at a Myrtle Beach hospital.
State law still requires medical facilities to acquire a Certificate of Need before building, expanding, offering a new service or buying medical equipment costing more than $600,000. It’s that provision, the hospitals argued, that means that DHEC can’t just stop administering the program.
The state Supreme Court has yet to say if it would agree to take up either lawsuit.