Court ruling about state oversight of hospitals illustrates need for legislative review

Top leaders of the Senate Health Care Committee applauded today’s unanimous state Supreme Court ruling that the state Department of Health overstepped its legal authority to regulate hospitals. Sen. Randi Becker, committee chair, and Sen. Bruce Dammeier, vice chair, said the justices’ decision found the agency’s certificate-of-need process was out of line with state law.

Health-care providers may be required to get state approval – in the form of a certificate of need – before building certain types of facilities or offering new or expanded services. The certificate-of-need process was established by the Legislature to ensure that services proposed by health-care providers are needed within a community. The process can be lengthy with no guaranteed outcome.

The case decided today was brought by the Washington State Hospital Association, which argued a 2013 DOH rule exceeded the agency’s statutory authority. DOH contended a certificate of need review was needed regarding any change in control in any part of a hospital, including any attempt to modify the hospital’s board of directors.

“This isn’t the first time the process of certificate-of-need rulemaking has gotten in the way of the business of health care. When ambulatory surgical centers were trying to add more beds recently, they faced similar roadblocks   . Clearly the process needs legislative review with an eye to strengthening the language so DOH has more direction,” said Becker, R-Eatonville.

“It appears that the Department of Health went well beyond the scope of its authority and I’m glad the court is reining in certificate-of-need rulemaking. This process was meant as a way of providing consumers with quality health-care facilities, not as a way of creating bureaucratic hurdles,” said Dammeier, R-Puyallup.

The court’s ruling can be read here.