COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) -- Doctors and hospitals across South Carolina can buy whatever equipment they want and start building whatever they think they need after state health officials decided to suspend a program that reviewed those requests.
Department of Health and Environmental Control Director Catherine Templeton is telling South Carolina health care providers that her agency will no longer run the Certificate of Need program and won't look at any projects awaiting a review, according to a letter from the agency obtained Friday by The Associated Press.
This week, Gov. Nikki Haley vetoed $1.7 million to run the program from the state's spending plan. The House refused to override the veto, so Templeton said there is no way to run the program without money. She took the actions of the governor and Legislature to tell her they didn't want the program any more.
"Suspending the program has the practical effect of allowing new and expanding health care facilities to move forward without the Certificate of Need process," Templeton wrote.
And even if lawmakers come back in January and give the program money, Templeton said she would not take any action against medical companies that expand without permission unless the General Assembly specifically instructed her to do so.
About three dozen projects worth about $90 million are awaiting DHEC approval.
Supporters of the Certificate of Need program like the South Carolina Hospital Association said its goal was to make sure medical services didn't just go to the richest and most populated areas of the state. They also said it kept medical costs down by requiring hospitals to prove a new medical complex or machine that costs more than $600,000 was needed and wouldn't sit idle while patients paid for it. All new nursing homes and substance abuse clinics must go through DHEC to get a certificate as well.
In the letter, Templeton said the decision won't affect DHEC's licensing program, which will continue to inspect health care facilities and ensure doctors and nurses are qualified to practice.
"With these protections in place, we do not believe the suspension of the Certificate of Need program presents any threat to the health, safety, and welfare of the public," Templeton said.
Several lawmakers in the House gave passionate speeches Tuesday, begging their colleagues to override the veto. Rep Walt McLeod, D-Little Mountain, warned of anarchy in the state's health care system. The House voted 56-65 on Wednesday to sustain Haley's veto. A two-thirds vote was needed to override it.
That decision took any action out of the Senate's hands the next day. But Sen. Joel Lourie took the floor to condemn the backdoor methods the governor used to get rid of a program she hasn't liked since she was a fundraiser for Lexington Medical Center and DHEC initially denied that hospital's request to do open-heart surgery.
Lourie said the law requiring medical facilities to get a Certificate of Need remains on the books and predicted lawsuits. He said if the governor didn't like the program, she should have changed the law, not just cut the program's funding.
"It needs reform," the Columbia Democrat said of the program. "But this is not the way to govern."
In her veto message, Haley said the program is intensely political. "We should allow the market to work rather than politics," she wrote.