Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Newnan. (COURTESY PHOTO)

Bill to ease restrictions on hospital business passes Georgia Senate

After a decade of trying, the Cancer Treatment Centers of America has struck a deal with the Georgia Hospital Association to lift a state law that constrains its growth in Georgia.

Their agreement was inserted into House Bill 186, and the Georgia Senate voted 51-4 Monday to approve the amended bill. It now goes back to the House for consideration there.

The constraints are tied to a state law called certificate of need, or CON, that is meant to protect the bottom lines of nonprofit hospitals. Such hospitals say they are required to treat any patient who walks through the doors, including cases that will cost the hospital money. They fear that without CON, private health care startups will cherry-pick their few profitable services, such as cancer treatment and outpatient surgery, and leave them with the money-losers.

Health care entrepreneurs say CON deters innovation and prevents them from opening businesses that would offer choice to Georgians.

Up to now CTCA has been limited to accepting only 35 percent of its patients from Georgia. That was part of the deal struck in 2008 that allowed CTCA to set up shop in the state. Under HB 186, that cap would be removed and CTCA could take as many Georgia patients as it has space for. In addition, HB 186 would allow CTCA to expand its capacity like other Georgia hospitals do. It would still not be a regular hospital, though; the law would create a category for it called “general cancer hospital,” and it still would not have an emergency room where unprofitable types of patients come through.

HB 186 would also change who is allowed to officially protest an application to establish or expand hospital services. Right now, for example, if a county government believes a proposed health care business would damage the local hospital and thus damage the local economy, it can oppose the proposal. But under HB 186, only another health care facility within 35 miles that provides similar services as the proposed one could oppose it.

The compromise would protect hospitals from what they see as a bigger threat: a new wave of outpatient surgery centers with multiple specialties or wide reach.

A lobbyist for CTCA, Ray Williams, praised the bill’s passage “on behalf of Georgia’s cancer patients.” He said that if it were to become law, he would not expect to ask for more concessions next year, though he added that the health care landscape is constantly changing.

Stay on top of what’s happening in Georgia government and politics at ajc.com/news/georgia-government/.

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