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N.J. single-room surgeries won't be regulated

Trenton, N.J. — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has pocket-vetoed a bill that would have placed the state’s single-room surgical practices under the same licensing and inspection system as ambulatory surgery centers with two or more operating rooms.

NJSpotlight.com reports that according to the state’s Department of Health and Senior Services, the governor vetoed the bill because its exemption for single-room surgeries from a tax levied on ambulatory surgery centers conflicted with a federal rule requiring states to have uniform taxing policies for healthcare providers in order to qualify for federal matching Medicaid funds. A health department spokeswoman noted that the added costs to license and inspect more than 100 single-room surgical practices statewide and the 200 or so large ambulatory surgery centers also factored into the governor’s veto decision.

Supporters of the bill argued that passage of it would have helped address the higher rate of serious safety violations in surgical practices than in ambulatory surgery centers that were reported last year by the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute. The bill’s legislative sponsors had exempted physicians from the tax because the physicians had lobbied hard against it and, the sponsors said, the bill’s intent was to improve patient safety and quality of care, not to tax “this particular subset of providers.”

NJSpotlight.com quotes Lawrence Downs, CEO of the Medical Society of New Jersey, as saying that while his group supports health department licensing and inspection, it opposed being subjected to the surgery center tax. “Our solution would be to ... repeal the tax and license everybody. Healthcare is not a commodity that should be taxed. We are trying to reduce the tax burden and the cost of providing healthcare, so taxing it makes no sense at all.”

New Jersey currently collects about $16 million annually from ambulatory surgery centers. The health department inspects the surgery centers every three years. In addition to the 2.95 percent assessment, the centers pay a $4,000-a-year licensing fee and a fee of $2,000 the year they are inspected.

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