Confehr: Haslam needs to fix this hypocrisy

Friday, November 19, 2010

You might have noticed that a state panel has approved development of a clinic in Spring Hill.

That's important for folks in Marshall County who drive there or north and south on Interstate 65.

If we're hurt in a wreck, it would be nice to have a hospital closer to the crash, but what's been approved isn't a full-fledged hospital. It's going to be an emergency room with some other related services.

That's better than the walk-in clinics sprouting up as America comes to grip with health care costs, since no ambulance would rush to a clinic or pharmacy offering flu shots. The ER "facility" is better because physicians there will treat broken bones or stabilize someone for major surgery, but the point here is that maybe the mini-hospital now authorized by a government panel ought to be able to offer whatever service its owners want to provide.

Close readers of newspapers in Middle Tennessee have seen in recent decades that Tennessee has a panel that issues certificates of need. The CONs are what's granted for the construction or expansion of health facilities.

The panel has been known as the Health Facilities Commission. It exists to make sure health facilities, including nursing homes, are not overbuilt. There's some sense that orderly development of these facilities as controlled by a government panel is better than letting the business of selling medical services survive in the marketplace without a restraint on competition.

The restriction of CONs is a restraint of trade. The health facilities commission is a government panel that runs counter to the free market system.

The oldest and most outspoken group of people who advocate the free market system - the Republican Party - has taken control of the Tennessee government.

Will the Grand Old Party stick to its philosophical roots and continue to advocate a free market system? Should the GOP recognize the existence of CONs as government control over the natural forces of competition in the business world of delivering medical services? Will the majority party in Tennessee recognize that in this case the answer is no when Bill Haslam asks: Should government be doing this in the first place?

If the existence of CONs -- and the health facility commission's ability to control a business -- seems odd, and just one of those arcane aspects of government, please take note of another one of those aspects of government.

It's the Sunset Law. It affects every agency, panel, program and department funded by the state budget.

Every so many years, there's a vote on whether this department or panel should continue, or whether it's out-lived its usefulness. If it's not worth continuing, then it is "sunsetted."

If our next governor is serious about cutting state spending, then shouldn't he make sure that the Sunset Law is used? Shouldn't we have significant public hearings on the commission that regulates whether there is a real hospital in Spring Hill, or whether it can only be a pit stop on the way to a real hospital?

These views are the author's and not necessarily reflective of the Tribune's views.