In a victory for nursing-home and hospice groups, a House committee Thursday scaled back a bill aimed at repealing controversial regulations on building health-care facilities.
A change approved by the House Health & Human Services Committee will ensure continuation of the "certificate of need" regulatory process for nursing homes and hospice programs. The bill (HB 7) still includes repealing certificates of need for hospitals — long a priority of House Republican leaders and Gov. Rick Scott.
Groups such the Florida Health Care Association, which represents nursing homes, and the Florida Hospice & Palliative Care Association have argued for weeks that the certificate-of-need, or CON, process is important for their industries and that they should be excluded from the repeal bill.
For example, the nursing-home group contended that repealing the regulations on building new facilities would lead to more empty beds in long-established nursing homes, affecting the operations of those homes.
"We've been saying all along that managed growth is important to making sure nursing centers are built in areas where they are most needed," Kristen Knapp, a spokeswoman for the Florida Health Care Association, said after the committee approved the change Thursday.
The decades-old CON process requires hospitals, nursing homes and hospice providers to seek approval from the state Agency for Health Care Administration before they can add new facilities and, at least in some cases, new programs. The process often leads to litigation about whether new facilities should get approval.
Scott and House Republican leaders have focused in recent years on repealing the process for hospitals and expanded the idea to nursing homes and hospice providers during this year's legislative session. After making the change Thursday, the Health & Human Services Committee voted 12-5 to approve repealing certificates of need for hospitals.
Bill sponsor Alex Miller, R-Sarasota, said the regulations on new facilities restrict competition and do not control costs.
Hospital-industry groups have fought a repeal, though they did not speak during Thursday's meeting. In part, they argue that eliminating certificates of need could lead to more hospitals being built in affluent areas, drawing away insured patients from established hospitals, including safety-net hospitals that treat large numbers of uninsured and Medicaid-funded patients.
The Senate has balked in past years at repealing the certificate-of-need process and has not taken up a repeal bill (SB 676) this session.
After the Health & Human Services Committee scaled back the House bill Thursday, Chairman Travis Cummings, R-Orange Park, asked Florida Health Care Association chief lobbyist Bob Asztalos about the nursing-home group's view of the revised bill.
"We love the amendment," Asztalos said, drawing laughs from lobbyists and other people in the committee room.