Bill to ease private hospital developments fails in Georgia House

(PHOTO courtesy of Atrium Medical Center, OH)

A bill to ease restrictions on private competition with hospitals has failed the Georgia House of Representatives, by a vote of 72 to 94. The restriction in question is called Certificate of Need, or CON. CON is aimed to protect nonprofit hospitals from being financially damaged by for-profit competition.

The bill, House Bill 198, is now dead for consideration this year. Thursday was the deadline bills typically need to cross over from one chamber to another to become law this year.

It is unlikely that the efforts to pass the legislation in some form will die, however. The sponsor, Rep. Matt Hatchett, is looking for other bills that have passed a chamber where CON language might be inserted.

House Speaker David Ralston said after the bill failed that he supported it. “Chairman Hatchett is trying to find the parts around which he can build a consensus to move us forward and I’m optimistic that he will,” Ralston said. “I think that it opens up some competition in health care. I think it’s good for rural Georgia, for access to health care in rural Georgia; it creates some opportunities that we haven’t had before.”

The result followed furious backroom negotiations. After HB 198 failed, House members agreed that it could come back later for another try, and leaders spent the afternoon looking for common ground.

The bill concerns certificate of need, the state regulation also called CON that aims to protect hospitals’ bottom lines. Right now a private business that wants to open up a new hospital or health care expansion must obtain a certificate from the state certifying that the service is really needed.

Hospitals are afraid that private health care businesses will cherry-pick their profitable lines of business, such as cancer treatment and orthopedic outpatient surgery, and leave them with the money-losers, such as ongoing neonatal care. The health care entrepreneurs say CON stifles innovation and patient choice.