State Sen. Bill Cowsert, R-Athens. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com

The Jolt: An effort to deregulate hospitals, clinics bogs down in Senate

The effort to remake Georgia’s regulatory system for hospitals and other health care facilities has become a game of three-way chess.

As the weekend broke, Andy Miller of Georgia Health News reported that a stalemate had developed in the Senate Committee on Regulated Industries and Utilities over to mandate changes to Georgia’s “certificate of need” method of hospital regulation.

The program, instituted four decades ago, limits the growth of health care facilities – as a means of protecting the investments of public, non-profit hospitals.

Both the House and Senate have pitched overhauls, but Miller quotes state Sen. Bill Cowsert, R-Athens, who chairs his chamber’s regulated industries committee, expressing doubts about whether a Senate version will make it to the floor by Thursday’s Crossover Day deadline.

Miller also spoke of a TV campaign against the legislation, initiated by a group calling itself Save Georgia Healthcare, made up of non-profit public hospitals. WellStar has owned up as a participant. Last week, we were picking up reports of a $250,000 purchase in TV time, primarily based in metro Atlanta.

Click here to see the ad. From the group’s website:

-- Our healthcare system has worked for 40 years to ensure access to high-quality healthcare, improve health outcomes and lower costs.

-- That system – called Certificate of Need (CON) – recognizes that there's no "free market" in healthcare. Hospitals providing money-losing services can't "compete" against providers who only serve the highest-paying customers and only perform profitable procedures.

-- Today, there's a move afoot in the Georgia General Assembly to remove these important protections.

-- Repealing the CON laws would allow profiteers to open lucrative surgery and imaging centers – siphoning off revenue streams that are the lifeblood of local hospitals. The end result is to enrich a select few at the expense of the many.

Another reason why the effort to overhaul Georgia’s certificate-of-need system may have stalled: Gov. Brian Kemp’s legislation to craft a waiver that may or may not include an increased draw-down of federal Medicaid dollars.

One could argue that the bill essentially paralyzes the health care discussion. Senate Bill 106, the governor’s legislation, has already passed the Senate. It would give state bureaucrats until June 2020 to put something together. What that something is, no one knows.

Public, non-profit hospitals fear doing away with Georgia’s certificate-of-need program will deprive them of income from the well-insured. Since the outset of this year’s legislative session, a Medicaid waiver has been dangled as an offset.

But with no way of judging the quality of the carrot, or whether it will appear at all, hospitals are balking at an attempt to wield the stick.

***

On Friday, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue was in Orlando, Fla., for the 2019 Commodity Classic – a kind of trade show for those who deal in large quantities of soybeans, corn and such.

Politico reports this morning that, in his address, the former Georgia governor said he was engaged in a personal boycott of Budweiser – because of its Super Bowl commercial that bragged about not using corn syrup as an ingredient. Said Perdue:

"I don't know if you all watched the Super Bowl at all, but there was a commercial on there and talking about some products some of you corn growers may have produced. And they don't use it anymore. Well guess what? I don't use theirs anymore, either."

We’re not sure that Perdue’s boycott will have an impact. Though his habits may have changed, while governor, Perdue described himself as a teetotaler. He didn’t allow alcohol to be served in the Governor’s Mansion. Even if it was made from corn syrup.

***

The hours leading up to the weekend are usually considered a window for the distribution of bad news. But at 4 p.m. or so last Friday, supporters of the effort to bring MARTA into Gwinnett announced that Gov. Nathan Deal had endorsed the effort – becoming the top (former) elected official to support the effort, other than Gwinnett County Commission Chairman Charlotte Nash.

One might wonder about the timing, but in truth, Deal’s remarks weren’t aimed at voters. His was a fundraising push. The operative passage:

Gwinnett plays a central role in our economic ecosystem, and I’m asking business leaders throughout metro Atlanta to lend their support and contribute significantly to this campaign effort. We all have a stake in seeing Gwinnett connect to the region and continue to serve a key logistics corridor that moves people and products quickly and efficiently through our transportation networks.

***

Many of you have been buzzing about a FreedomWorks letter we posted last week that was highly critical of Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and the Republican effort to push through legislation that authorize the spending of $150 million for the purchase of a new generation of touch-screen voting machines.

“The Secretary of State is circulating a cost analysis that is profoundly misleading and wildly inflates the costs of conducting elections with hand-marked paper ballots,” the letter stated.

Raffensperger’s office responded with its own letter on Friday. Read the entire thing here. A few choice paragraphs:

Your position against touchscreen-marked paper ballots demonstrates either a fundamental misunderstanding of the debate at hand or a blind acceptance of the partisan rhetoric of interest groups that are the antithesis of everything you claim to stand for. But given that Freedomworks is a far-removed DC organization, it may be safest to assume that you do not fully comprehend the climate of our state, the demands of our communities, or the objectives of this office…

Based on an audit of information from local election officials and previously conducted Requests for Information, our office can say with confidence that a hand-marked paper ballot system would cost Georgia up to $224 million over ten years – the brunt of which would fall on our counties to pay for in the form of ballot printing costs. This wholesale examination – the only of its kind – makes it clear that the lowball estimates of $35 million for hand-marked paper ballot costs peddled by interest groups are largely misleading.

We should note that the FreedomWorks staffer who signed the letter, Jason Pye, is a lifelong resident of metro Atlanta.

 ***

A contender for the chairmanship of the Georgia GOP wants to bring the Republican National Convention to Atlanta in 2024. Scott Johnson, former chair of the Cobb County GOP, over the weekend sent a missive to Republican activists pledging to organize a team to make Atlanta’s case for the event.

“In recent years, the RNC has selected Houston and Tampa, and in 2020 our friends in Charlotte will host the GOP national convention,” Johnson wrote in a Facebook message. “Together, we will assemble a strong bid team, work with our partners in metro Atlanta and across Georgia and prepare an amazing bid,” he wrote.

Atlanta was host to the 1988 Democratic National Convention, where former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis was nominated to run against Republican nominee George H.W. Bush.

***

U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, has picked up a Democratic challenger. ProjectQ reports that Democrat Antwon Stephens would make history as Georgia’s first LGBTQ member of Congress should he win. He would also be one of the youngest: 25 years old in 2021. Collins’ 9th Congressional District is one of the most Republican strongholds east of the Mississippi. Trump won the northeast Georgia district by nearly 60 percentage points in 2016. 

Despite Stephens’ youth, this isn’t his first political run. He raised more than $100,000 last year in his unsuccessful bid for Athens mayor, according to ProjectQ. 

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