With only 71 ICU beds in Maine, group says Gov. Mills should suspend law restricting health care facilities

Governor Janet Mills signs documents.

AUGUSTA – Unless you’re a health care policy wonk, health care administrator, lawmaker or staffer you may never have heard of a restrictive law known as Certificate of Need. With the rise of the coronavirus, laws such as Certificate of Need are drawing renewed scrutiny as one of the potential causes of lack of health care infrastructure needed to even come close to addressing the pandemic as infection rates rise.

During a recent press conference, Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah said that statewide, Maine only has 71 ICU hospital beds available. Now a policy group that has been offering recommendations on additional actions Governor Janet Mills could take as she faces the crisis is calling on her to eliminate Maine’s Certificate of Need requirements and allow Maine’s health care providers to expand as they see fit.

Born from the belief that the health care providers needed to be restricted from expansion without the approval of government in order to control costs, Certificate of Need laws were originally implemented as a federal requirement in the 1970’s but federal requirements were eliminated in 1987.

That didn’t stop Baldacci-era lawmakers from continuing to advance Certificate of Need requirements in 2002 and again in 2007. In more recent years, efforts to repeal Certificate of Need laws have fallen short of efforts.

Now, Maine Policy, a policy group that has been publicly proposing innovative suggestions to Governor Janet Mills as she deals with the coronavirus crisis, is saying Mills should temporarily suspend Maine’s Certificate of Need process because the law will unnecessarily limit the supply of health care services in Maine.

Citing Dr. Shah’s statement that Maine only has 71 ICU beds and several models and studies on potential COVID-19 scenarios, Maine Policy issued a statement, saying, “Under a best case scenario, meaning 20 percent of adults are infected over 18 months, the state’s current hospital bed capacity could handle the influx of coronavirus patients. However, in the moderate and worst case scenarios (40 and 60 percent of adults infected over 18 months), Maine will not have enough beds available to treat coronavirus patients. If 20, 40 or 60 percent of adults became infected in 12 months or less, Maine would have a significant health care emergency on its hands.”

Maine Policy goes on in the statement to clarify, “In other words, if social distancing efforts fail to stop the rapid spread of COVID-19 in Maine, our state will not be equipped to treat patients. This would be disastrous for residents of Maine, the oldest state in the country by median age, because elderly patients have much higher fatality and hospitalization rates from the virus.”

Maine’s Certificate of Need laws, Maine Policy says, is burdensome red tape that could prevent health care facilities from expanding bed capacity or making critical investments as they deal with the COVID-19 crisis.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, Maine’s overall number of hospital beds per 1,000 people is just above the national average. Unfortunately, Maine’s per capita ICU bed rate appears to lag considerably behind the national average.

Earlier today, Governor Janet Mills announced new measures to expand telehealth and and licensing of medical professionals. The measures did not make any changes to Maine’s Certificate of Need requirements.

According to the Maine CDC, Maine has 142 confirmed cases of coronavirus as of March 25th, 2020. Maine CDC says that number likely underrepresents the total number of Mainers infected with the virus. Health officials say symptoms of coronavirus include fever, sore throat and shortness of breath.

Governor Janet Mills has taken numerous actions to try and prevent the spread of coronavirus. Those actions impact many facets of everyday life for Maine people. Learn more about those actions at the link below:


Read the full statement from Maine Policy on Maine’s Certificate of Need law and coronavirus at the link below:

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