Minnesota has law restricting hospital beds and expert says law is impacting its fight on COVID-19

Published: Apr. 9, 2020 at 7:32 PM CDT
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Governors across the United States are pleading with the Trump Administration for help in the fight against COVID-19.

Yet, 35 states have laws in place impacting their ability to effectively respond. Minnesota is one of them.

The state of 10,000 Lakes has a statute that prevents hospitals from expanding or allowing new ones to be built, thus limiting the number of hospital beds.

Economics Professor Thomas Stratmann of George Mason University said these laws are anti-competitive.

“These Certificate of Need laws definitely have prevented the build up of the number of hospital beds we have. And they're contributing to a shortage of ICU beds,” Stratmann said.

Stratmann has spent the past few years studying Certificate of Need laws, since his home state of Virginia has one on the books.

These laws tend to hurt rural hospitals the most, according to the professor.

“The statute of Minnesota requires first an application, and then the regulators decide, not only whether there is need, but also whether the opening of a new hospital, or adding beds, hurts the competitor,” Stratmann said.

Minnesota Representative Paul Marquart, DFL-District 4B, said the state originally passed the law decades ago, with the idea that it would lower healthcare costs.

“The bottom line is when you have a moratorium like this in place, does it work for a pandemic? Well, no. Absolutely not,” Marquart said.

According to the Pacific Legal Foundation, 18 states suspended their Certificate of Need laws during the pandemic. Minnesota, however, was not one.

Marquart said the state is getting around the statute by scouting for five potential sites to house hospital beds.

“The director of homeland security and management and the governor [are] looking at additional beds as the peak in the COVID-19 hits,” Marquart said.

He added that Minnesota would need to take a hard look at the statute once the pandemic finishes.

“I think this is going to be a situation where people are going to take a look at this and say, ‘where is the middle ground?’” Marquart said.

We compiled a list of the Intensive Care Unit beds available in the Valley, which are attached to this story.

ICU beds have ventilators, which are used to breathe oxygen in and out of a patient’s lungs.

There are a large number of rural counties in North Dakota and Minnesota that don’t have ICU beds.

Cass County has the most ICU beds in the region, according to data provided by Kaiser Health News.

Essentia Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Richard Vetter said government and hospital leaders are partnering to prepare for a potential surge.

“Both of our health systems have been upgrading and expanding, and making sure that we have more ICU capacity than at our base level,” Dr. Vetter said.

Although North Dakota doesn’t have a law restricting hospital beds, Vetter said Minnesota’s law isn’t an issue.

“I think it's reasonable that we don't have overcapacity given the high cost of medical care,” Vetter said. “But I think when you're dealing with a crisis or an emergency, having an easy way to remove those restrictions and add capacity certainly makes sense.”

Nonetheless, professor Stratmann said Minnesota’s statute, and others around the country similar to it, benefit large hospitals.

North Dakota passed a similar law in the 1970s restricting the number of hospital beds, yet it was phased out in the 1990s.