Bill would open R.I. to outside health care providers
NEW LEGISLATION introduced by Rep. Joseph M. McNamara Thursday would expedite the process for out-of-state health care providers to obtain a certificate of need from the R.I. Department of Health, and also exempt certain domestic medical tourism companies and multi-practice health facilities from the certificate of need requirements.
PROVIDENCE – Rep. Joseph M. McNamara, D-Warwick, has introduced legislation designed to expedite the R.I. Department of Health’s “certificate of need” process that caused pain-management company Pentec Health to stop treating its Rhode Island patients last year.
At a Statehouse press conference Thursday, McNamara thanked former Providence Journal reporter Tracy Breton for her role in bringing Pentec’s case to light. Breton’s article, “Cruel R.I. rules vs. pain abatement,” told the story of Bea Burns, a multiple sclerosis patient bedridden for 17 years who had her internal pain pump refilled by Pennsylvania-based Pentec in her South County home.
After Pentec withdrew from the state following a lengthy and ultimately fruitless application process for the certificate of need that would have allowed the company to continue servicing Rhode Island patients, Burns was forced to travel by ambulance from Wakefield to Rhode Island Hospital to have her pain pump refilled.
The bill, known as the “Access to Medical Technology Innovation Act,” would amend the state’s general laws to require that the Department of Health render a decision within 30 days for certificate of need applications approved for expeditious review on the merit of “documented emergency needs.”
McNamara authored the bill after a series of hearings on the Pentec case before the House Committee on Health, Education and Welfare, which he chairs. McNamara said he hoped the new legislation would make it possible for Pentec to do business in Rhode Island again, and attract other companies hesitant to test the state’s business waters.
“The [certificate of need] application itself is very lengthy,” McNamara said in an interview after the press conference. “There are hearings. I listened to testimony at the hearings myself, and the process was outrageous.”
The bill would also exempt certain domestic medical tourism companies and multi-practice health facilities from the certificate of need requirements, in an effort to attract businesses to Rhode Island that draw out-of-state patients like the Laser Spine Institute.
Headquartered in Tampa, Fla., the Laser Spine Institute treats lumbar spine stenosis with minimally invasive surgery, and has expressed interest in opening a location in Warwick due to the close proximity of the train station, airport and hotels. However, the state’s certificate of need process had so far dissuaded the company from settling in Rhode Island, according to McNamara and Rep. David Bennett, D-Warwick, who is enthusiastic about courting the institute.
“The Laser Spine Institute is showing great interest in Warwick,” Bennett said. “The company’s presence in Tampa generates $140 million annually. This would be great for the tourism industry. I can’t express how much of an impact this will have.”
The Laser Spine Institute would create about 60 new jobs in Warwick and as many as 300 indirect new jobs in the area, according to a news release.
The Access to Medical Technology Innovation Act also proposes a moratorium on the purchase of new health care equipment and services until July 1, 2015. A release announcing the bill indicated the moratorium would allow the Department of Health and the Health Care Planning and Accountability Council to “conduct a statewide health care utilization and capacity study and prepare a statewide health care plan and inventory of health care facilities, equipment and health services.”
McNamara explained there was no other way to develop a health care plan.
“The moratorium is required because the decisions that the health council makes cannot be made if they do not have the data, an understanding of the current health care assets in our state, the availability of resources, the unmet health care populations that exist, and what those gaps are,” McNamara said.
“How many MRI facilities do we have? How many ambulatory surgical centers do we have?” he added. “Until we have that information those types of decisions should not be made.”
It is not immediately clear whether or to what extent the moratorium might impact Rhode Island hospitals and health care providers. Gail Carvelli, a spokeswoman for Lifespan, said the network of hospitals needs to fully evaluate the ramifications of the bill before taking a position on the legislation.
R.I. Executive Office of Health and Human Services spokeswoman Beryl Kenyon echoed Carvelli’s sentiment, saying that the agency is aware of the bill and “currently in the process of reviewing its implications.”