Poll Showing Majority Support for COPN Is Meaningless

Source: Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association

by James A. Bacon

A new Mason-Dixon poll of 625 registered voters commissioned by the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association (VHHA) finds that Virginians prefer to keep the Certificate of Public Need program by a three-to-one margin.

“Overall, nearly two-thirds of Virginians (62 percent) express support for the current health care delivery system with COPN in place,” states a press release accompanying the poll. “These findings are consistent with results from a June 2019 statewide poll in which 55 percent of Virginians said they support preserving COPN, compared to just 13 percent in opposition to the program.”

Critics of COPN say that Virginia’s major hospital systems have gamed the regulations to stifle competition with one another, shut down competition with physician-backed ambulatory care centers, and carve out geographic monopolies. Thanks to the regulations, Virginia’s “nonprofit” hospitals enjoy hundreds of millions of dollars in additional profits. Hospitals defend the regulations on the grounds that interlopers would “skim the cream,” providing care to the most profitable patients and dumping less profitable patients on hospitals.

The poll results are a dubious measure of public opinion, however.

The first problem with VHHA spin on the poll is that it doesn’t match the results found in its own summary of the poll results. Where did VHHA get the “62 percent” figure? Not from the chart above, which was distributed with the press release.

The second problem is that 33% of Virginians said they are “not sure” what to think. Little surprise, considering that the polling question reads as follows: “Do you think Virginia’s Certificate of Public Need program should be kept in place or eliminated”? I question whether two-thirds of Virginian voters know what COPN is. Without some understanding of what the regulations do and their impact on competition and healthcare costs, a poll participant’s response is meaningless.

A third problem with the poll results is that it doesn’t measure the intensity of peoples’ opinions. The gun-rights protesters who rallied in Richmond Monday may represent a minority of public opinion, but no one disputes the fact that they hew to their opinions with great passion. Even if a majority of Virginians say they support COPN, I would argue, their convictions are paper thin and could change easily.

Here’s what people need to focus on: Virginians who are privately insured in the non-subsidized commercial market pay the highest premiums for family medical coverage in the country. Why? The primary reason is that Virginia healthcare providers charge so much. Hospitals are determined to preserve COPN because it protects market share and allows the biggest and most powerful among them to reap monopoly profits. You think Dominion Energy is over-billing the public? Dominion ain’t got nothing on the hospital lobby.