A split Michigan Senate voted Wednesday to let hospitals do multimillion-dollar construction projects or add psychiatric beds without needing state regulatory approval.
The five Republican-sponsored bills, which were passed 21-16 on party lines, were sent to the GOP-led House for consideration. The legislation would change the certificate of need program, which was created to ensure that only needed health services are added in Michigan.
The law currently requires hospitals, nursing homes, surgical outpatient facilities and others to secure state approval before doing capital expenditure projects exceeding roughly $3.3 million. One bill would eliminate the requirement.
Other measures would end a requirement that hospitals get clearance to add psychiatric beds but include a new mandate that psychiatric hospitals or units make half of their beds available to low-income patients referred by community mental health centers that serve those without insurance. Other bills would repeal the certificate of need requirement for air ambulance services and add two more members to the 11-member Certificate of Need Commission.
"The certificate of need requirements in Michigan are rife with unnecessary red tape and costs that we need to deal with to provide better access for Michigan residents," said Sen. Curt VanderWall, a Ludington Republican who is sponsoring three of the measures. "These bills provide a solution."
Democrats voted against the legislation.
Rosie Jones, spokeswoman for Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich of Flint, said the bills "threaten Michigan's CON program by allowing the process to be circumvented for certain facilities, equipment and services. This ultimately could lead to a negative impact on rural communities, an increase in costly and unnecessary services, and a cherry-picking of patient populations that could ultimately reduce access to certain services for low-income people."
Jones said the occupancy rate for psychiatric beds is around 70%, indicating there is a shortage of staff to take in patients.
VanderWall said that while repealing the requirement for psychiatric beds would not solve major challenges in the area of mental health, it would bring "us one step closer to eliminating a hurdle from the process. If someone has the staff today or the capacity today to make an additional psychiatric bed available, I want it opened."