Appeals court upholds Virginia health care facility law

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A Virginia law that requires government approval for new or expanded health care facilities is constitutional, a federal appeals court ruled Thursday.

A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond unanimously rejected a claim that Virginia's "certificate of public need" program impermissibly interferes with interstate commerce.

While we cannot say whether Virginia's program is ultimately wise, it most certainly is constitutional," Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III wrote.

Virginia requires medical providers to prove to the State Board of Health that proposed new facilities, expansions or major equipment purchases are necessary in a geographic area. According to the appeals court, 36 states have similar programs.

Colon Health Centers of America and Progressive Radiology challenged Virginia's law. U.S. District Judge Claude M. Hilton ruled against the plaintiffs, and the appeals court upheld Hilton's decision.

“The program left in place by today's ruling amounts to nothing more than a certificate of monopoly for favored established businesses, which comes at enormous cost to ordinary Virginians,” said Robert McNamara, a lawyer at the Institute for Justice who represented the plaintiffs.

McNamara said no decision has been made on whether to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. He said such a petition would be due April 20, and the General Assembly might take action on the issue before then.

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