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Government Limits Hospital Competition



(p. A9) When the 124-bed StoneSprings Hospital Center opened in December, it became the first new hospital in Loudoun County, Va., in more than a century. That's more remarkable than it might at first seem: In the past two decades, Loudoun County, which abuts the Potomac River and includes growing Washington suburbs, has tripled in population. Yet not a single new hospital had opened. Why? One big reason is that StoneSprings had to fight through years of regulatory reviews and court challenges before laying the first brick.

County officials and the Hospital Corporation of America, or HCA, began talking about building a new hospital in 2001. But Virginia is one of the 36 states with a "certificate of need" law, which requires health-care providers to obtain a state license before opening a new facility. Getting a license is supposed to take about nine months, according to the state Health Department. HCA first submitted an application in July 2002 but didn't win approval for a new facility until early 2004.

Then the plan faced a series of legal challenges from the Inova Health System, an entrenched, multibillion-dollar competitor. Over decades Inova has become the dominant player in the Virginia suburbs.


. . .


It's not hard to understand why Inova might fight so hard to keep out challengers: There's a direct correlation between prices and competition. In a paper released in December, economists with Yale, Carnegie Mellon and the London School of Economics evaluated claims data from Aetna, Humana and UnitedHealth. They found that rates were 15.3% higher, on average, in areas with one hospital, compared with those serviced by four or more. In markets with a two-hospital duopoly, prices were 6.4% higher. Where only three hospitals compete they were 4.8% higher.

Research by Chris Koopman of the free-market Mercatus Center suggests that Virginia could have 10,000 more hospital beds and 40 more hospitals offering MRIs if the certificate of need restrictions did not exist. "In many instances, they create a quasi-monopoly," he says. "In essence, it's a government guarantee that no one will compete with you, until you get notice and an opportunity to challenge that person's entry into that market."



For the full commentary, see:

ERIC BOEHM. "CROSS COUNTRY; For Hospital Chains, Competition Is a Bitter Pill; Building a new medical center in Virginia can take a decade, because state laws favor entrenched players." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Jan. 30, 2016): A9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Jan. 29, 2016.)


The academic paper mentioned above that relates hospital charges to the number of hospitals in the area, is:

Cooper, Zack, Stuart V. Craig, Martin Gaynor, and John Van Reenen. "The Price Ain't Right? Hospital Prices and Health Spending on the Privately Insured." NBER Working Paper # 21815. National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc., 2015.


Chris Koopman's research, mentioned above, can be found in:

Koopman, Christopher, and Thomas Stratmann. "Certificate-of-Need Laws: Implications for Virginia." In Mercatus on Policy: Mercatus Center, George Mason University, 2015.






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