- Associated Press - Monday, March 7, 2016

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - An effort by doctors, tea party groups, conservative lawmakers and others to loosen government oversight of new or expanded health care facilities failed Monday, marking a much-lobbied win for the state’s hospitals.

The Virginia Senate used a procedural move Monday to effectively kill legislation aimed at reforming the state’s decades-old certificate of public need law, which requires medical providers to prove to the State Board of Health that proposed new facilities, expansions or major equipment purchases are necessary in a geographic area.

Opponents of the current systems say it is uncompetitive and results in higher health care prices. Hospitals argue they don’t operate in a free-market system and need the certificate of public need program to remain economically viable while providing charity care to the state’s poor.

The legislation originated in the House of Delegates, where leaders took an aggressive approach to trying to pare back the certificate of public need law.

The Senate version, before it was killed off Monday, was less expansive and would have only removed the need for government approval of new facilities for medical imaging - like CT scans or MRIs. The Senate version also would have created the Virginia Charity Care Fund to raise and spend money on hospital charity care.

Sen. Steve Newman said the Senate version represented a compromise that left neither side satisfied but still represented positive movement on the issue.

“This bill is great, great progress,” Newman said.

Even though the bill did not pass, House leaders still felt like they’d made a point.

“While we always expected this to be a multiyear process, we made significantly more progress than was expected,” said House Speaker William J. Howell’s spokesman, Matt Moran.

The Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association, a trade group with one of the deepest pockets at the Capitol, lobbied hard against efforts at scaling back the certificate of public need law. It ran TV and ads radio ads during session, saying the legislation would put smaller, rural hospitals out of business - an ad campaign that irked many Republican lawmakers.

Julian Walker, the association’s spokesman, said his group appreciated lawmakers’ efforts “to find the right health care reform formula” and looks forward to working with them in the future.

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