An Iowa eye surgeon has filed a lawsuit challenging the state's "certificate of need" process for approving outpatient surgery centers, saying the state's regulatory process has allowed competing hospitals to oppose his application and resulted in blocking him from opening an eye surgery center in Cedar Rapids. 

The physician, Dr. Lee Birchansky, is suing Iowa Department of Public Health Director Gerd Clabaugh and members of the state board of health and the Iowa Health Facilities Council, which considers all certificate of need applications. A longtime patient of Birchansky, Michael Jensen, is a co-plaintiff in the suit. 

The complaint, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Des Moines, claims that the certificate-of-need requirement "places severe burdens on medical entrepreneurs in Iowa, requiring a difficult and time-consuming application process that offers no reliable way to predict whether a certificate will actually be granted to any given applicant," and that "the program exists for no reason beyond protecting established businesses from competition." 

Iowa Department of Public Health spokeswoman Polly Carver-Kimm said the department just became aware of the lawsuit and that the attorney general's office is now reviewing it. 

Birchansky wants to open an outpatient surgery center adjacent to his office in Cedar Rapids to perform cataract and other eye surgeries. He has had four applications denied by the state and has a fifth certificate of need application pending. In the lawsuit, he claims that two local hospitals that control the existing surgery facilities have opposed his efforts by consistently intervening in his application process.

"It is ridiculous that I have an outpatient surgery center that is already built, already equipped and all ready to go, but I have been denied a certificate of need four times because established hospitals do not want competition," Birchansky said in a prepared statement. 

Another plaintiff in the case, Korver Ear Nose and Throat LLC in Orange City, is seeking relief so that it can open an outpatient surgery center in Orange City. 

The lawsuit is asking the federal court to rule that the certificate of need process is unconstitutional because it allegedly violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and Article I, Section 6 of the Iowa Constitution. 

According to the Institute for Justice, a nonprofit libertarian public interest law firm that's representing the plaintiffs, Iowa is one of 28 states that have a certificate of need process.