Cancer center expansion bill hits dead end

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A bill that would have allowed Cancer Treatment Centers of America to expand its Newnan hospital and see more Georgia patients has hit a dead end.

House Bill 482 was scheduled to get its first hearing Tuesday, but the bill's sponsor said there was no point in proceeding with a bill that clearly lacked support.

“I felt it would be a debate without a purpose, because it wasn’t going to be a bill that was going to get out of that committee at this time,” said Rep. Wendell Willard, R-Sandy Springs.

Willard hasn’t completely dropped the issue. He said he still hopes to get support to form a study committee that would be a better forum for debating the issue. The bill was strongly opposed by the state’s hospital industry.

Legislation passed in 2008 allowed for-profit Cancer Treatment Centers of America to open a new hospital in Georgia without going through the same stringent “certificate of need” process that is normally required to build or expand a hospital.

The state required, however, that the “destination cancer hospital” attract 65 percent of its patients from out of state, limit its size to 50 beds and treat low-income Georgians by providing charity care and taking Medicaid patients.

HB 482 would have eliminated the 50-bed cap and removed the requirement that Cancer Treatment Centers of America at Southeastern Regional Medical Center attract most of its patients from outside of Georgia.

CTCA said the out-of-state requirement forces it to turn down Georgia patients who want to get treatment at the Newnan cancer center.

Willard said he sponsored the bill because he doesn’t like the state’s certificate of need requirements. “I really think it’s inappropriate for the government to put limitations on how many patients a medical facility should be able to receive within the jurisdiction where it’s located,” he said.

CTCA was pushing the bill as new public reports raised questions about whether the Newnan hospital was meeting state mandates. In a report filed Friday covering inpatient admissions, the hospital said it admitted three Medicaid patients last year out of its total 1,007 admissions. That is less than 1 percent. Meanwhile, patients with private insurance made up 88 percent of its hospital admissions, according to the report.

The state’s hospitals welcomed the news that the bill has stalled, saying it did not make sense to give CTCA more special treatment.

“I think the committee realized how big this issue is and that you have got to have certificate of need in order for all patients to have access to health care,” said Monty Veazey, president of the Georgia Alliance of Community Hospitals, which represents nonprofit and community facilities.