Republican Maine State Rep. Laurel Libby of Auburn announced Monday that she has submitted a bill proposal for the second legislative session that would repeal certain requirements for access to and increase availability at the state’s mental healthcare facilities.
The Auburn representative’s proposal comes just days after a horrific mass shooting claimed the lives of 18 people and wounded 13 in her neighboring city Lewiston.
The suspected perpetrator of the Lewiston shooting, Robert Card, had a recent history of mental illness that included hearing voices and threatening to commit a mass shooting — threats that resulted in a 14-day stay at a New York psychiatric hospital over the summer.
Rep. Libby’s bill, entitled “An Act to Increase Availability of Mental Healthcare Facilities in Maine,” would repeal Certificate of Need (CON) requirements for inpatient and outpatient mental healthcare facilities in Maine — requirements by which mental health providers must seek approval from the state and other providers in order to offer new services or to build a new facility.
“We have a chronic, systemic shortage of mental healthcare in Maine. We saw the effect of that shortage last week during the tragic events that took place in Lewiston,” Rep. Libby said in a Monday press release.
“If we really want to tackle the root cause, then we should eliminate any and all obstacles to maximizing access to mental healthcare in Maine,” she said. “Repealing CON is the first step in eliminating those obstacles. Time and again, states that have repealed CON have demonstrated an increased ability to respond to the needs of their communities.”
Currently, 35 states and Washington, D.C. have CON laws on the books, with varying degrees of regulatory oversight, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Proponents of CON laws believe that they prevent duplicative services and incentivize the expansion of services into areas with access issues, while opponents say CON laws are anticompetitive and have the opposite effect on healthcare access and costs.
“I think Mainers are tired of hearing politicians talk about the problems in our state, but then be unwilling to implement practical solutions that will actually make a difference. I’ve submitted a full CON repeal legislation twice before, and the current majority killed it both times,” Libby said.
“I am hopeful, having now seen how desperately we need to address the mental healthcare shortage, my fellow legislators will appreciate the need for this narrow CON repeal. It’s time to prioritize the mental health of Maine people above the lobby associations that benefit from limiting services,” she said.
South Carolina was the most recent state to repeal many of its CON laws earlier this month, with Republican Gov. Henry McMaster staying that “Everyone benefits when the proven power of the free market is unleashed in our state.”
New Hampshire repealed its CON program in 2016, disbanding the state’s Certificate of Need board that previously regulated much of the state’s construction of new medical facilities.
Rep. Libby’s proposed bill will be examined by the Legislative Council, who will make a determination as to whether the Legislature will move the bill forward for consideration in the second legislative session.
The Legislative Council’s scheduled meeting last Thursday was cancelled in response to the Lewiston shooting, and their next meeting is scheduled for Nov. 16.