116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
After years of uncertainty, the sign on Highway 965 near the border of Coralville and North Liberty is finally true: “Coming soon,” it says underneath the University of Iowa Health Care logo.
Plans for a UIHC offshoot in northern Johnson County have been in the works for some time but they hit a snag this year when a state board narrowly voted against granting approval for the project. After hospital leaders submitted an updated plan, the Iowa Health Facilities Council reversed and approved it this week.
In Iowa, new health care facilities are required to get a certificate of need from the state. The process allows the public and other health care providers to argue against the expansion. In this case, Mercy Iowa City and UnityPoint Health-Cedar Rapids advocated against granting permission.
We have a hard time believing there are too few health care options in the growing Cedar Rapids-Iowa City corridor, which serves as a health care hub for the state and the Midwest. UI leaders made a strong case that they are not necessarily competing with local hospitals but instead expanding care for the patients from around the region who are hardest to treat.
We are glad to see the UIHC project in North Liberty move forward but the controversy also raises a broader issue about certificate of need laws. UI has the influence and resources to navigate the bureaucratic obstacle course, but smaller community health care providers can’t easily do that.
Iowa requires organizations to get state permission not only to build new hospitals, but also for a list of other health care facilities. Even existing facilities have to apply before they expand their facilities, purchase new equipment or offer new services in many cases.
A bill was introduced in the Iowa Legislature this past year to eliminate certificate of need requirements. Although it didn’t go anywhere in the legislative process, it caught the attention of the health care industry. Lobbyists for the big hospital systems predictably opposed it, while primary care providers and independent physicians backed it.
At least a dozen states, including our neighbors in Wisconsin and South Dakota, have no certificate of need law. Short of that, Iowa policymakers could consider nixing the requirement for some projects, such as birth centers, nursing facilities and certain outpatient services.
Our region is growing and we need new health facilities to meet our needs. We shouldn’t let existing providers stand in the way.
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