One aspect of investing in a healthcare facilities business of which investors should be aware is the impact of state certificate of need (CON) laws. A  CON is a state regulatory review process that requires an application to the appropriate state board for the grant of a CON prior to developing, or in some states expanding or modifying, a covered healthcare facility. CON laws arose in the 1960’s as many states attempted to curb rising healthcare expenditures through planning and regulation.  In 1974, Congress passed the National Health Planning and Resources Development Act, mandating that all states adopt CON laws.  A decade later, Congress allowed the federal law to expire, and several states quickly repealed or let sunset their CON laws. Now, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 36 states plus the District of Columbia have CON laws that govern some healthcare facilities. Some state laws govern primarily hospitals while other state laws govern a broader array of facilities. Supporters of CON programs believe they help ensure access to healthcare, keep quality high and lower costs by evaluating whether a particular service or facility is actually needed in the proposed area.  Opponents believe it stymies healthy competition that is needed to keep quality high.

Investors should become familiar with the CON requirements, if any, in the states in which their target businesses operate, including the facilities governed by the CON laws and the rules on expansion and modification. Investors should consider whether such restrictions work to the businesses’ benefit currently and whether the restrictions will continue to be beneficial in the future. The presence or lack of state CON requirements also will likely factor into valuation of the business. In certain circumstances, a CON can be considered a valuable asset of the business that was hard-fought and costly to obtain, and state CON requirements can in some cases function as a protection for the business against emerging competitors in at least the short term. However, in most states, CONs are tied very specifically to a designated location and designated size (e.g. based on number of beds, procedure rooms etc) and facilities in a CON state can have less flexibility in terms of modifying business lines as facilities in non-CON states. In those CON states closely regulating expansion and modification, obtaining the necessary approvals can be an expensive and lengthy process.

Additionally, investors should understand the workings of the state CON board and the current political and legal issues facing those boards. For example, the gle provides that no person shall construct, modify or establish certain types of healthcare facilities or acquire major medical equipment without first obtaining a CON or exemption from the Health Facilities and Services Review Board (the Board).  In a recent article, McGuireWoods healthcare attorneys Jeff Clark, Jason Greis and Joe Hylak-Reinholtz discussed some key recent changes to the Illinois CON law impacting Illinois healthcare providers and their investors.  The authors discussed that on March 1, 2010, an important provision in the Illinois law relating to the legislature’s decision to alter, yet again, the number of members on the Board (increasing its size from five to nine members) became effective. The change represents the third time since 2003 that the state legislature has altered the number of members on the Board. The change is important because the addition of four Board members could create new opportunities or lead to unforeseen challenges for future CON applicants. The viability of potential projects may be shaped by the individuals Governor Quinn appoints to fill the new Board vacancies. Changes such as these in state CON laws and boards can have significant impacts on a business and should be carefully considered by investors as well.