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North Carolina hospitals ‘deeply concerned’ by parts of state health care bill

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The organization representing 135 North Carolina hospitals on Thursday said it was “deeply concerned” by a portion of a sweeping health care bill passed by the state senate.

The North Carolina Healthcare Association released a statement in response to a measure the Senate passed in two votes Wednesday and Thursday. The bill would expand Medicaid coverage to an additional half million uninsured people in the state. It would also roll back the state’s rules on adding new hospital services, known as the Certificate of Need law. The section reforming Certificate of Need is what worries hospitals.

When North Carolina hospitals and health care systems want to add additional beds, operating rooms or a long list of other services, they must get permission from the state’s Department of Health and Human Services. Under the bill passed Thursday, fewer of those services require state approval. That could make it easier for out-of-state health care companies to set up shop in North Carolina and saturate the market, said Cody Hand, senior vice president of advocacy, policy and communications at NCHA.

“The fear is what happens when those outside entities … make the business decision that they can no longer operate and they close,” Hand said.

Local hospitals could stop offering certain services as new health care providers open, which Hand said could leave communities stranded without care if those outside systems ultimately close.

“Modifying the current CON law would hurt the stability of rural hospitals by carving out elective and outpatient procedures which are the lifeblood of community hospitals, while allowing niche medical organizations without such federal regulation to cater to commercially insured patients,” NCHA spokesperson Cynthia Charles said in a statement.

The health care bill will now head to North Carolina’s House of Representatives, where Republican lawmakers have said they do not have sufficient votes to pass it.

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Claire Donnelly is WFAE's health reporter. She previously worked at NPR member station KGOU in Oklahoma and also interned at WBEZ in Chicago and WAMU in Washington, D.C. She holds a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University and attended college at the University of Virginia, where she majored in Comparative Literature and Spanish. Claire is originally from Richmond, Virginia. Reach her at cdonnelly@wfae.org or on Twitter @donnellyclairee.