Georgia bill would allow competition for hospitals’ best customers

The measure, House Bill 198, was filed by state Rep. Matt Hatchett, R-Dublin, chairman of the House majority caucus.

Following the lead of a House study committee, HB 198 takes a broad swipe at the restrictions known as certificate of need, or CON.

Certificate of need is a regulation that is aimed at protecting the bottom lines of public hospitals. Such hospitals say private health businesses want to cherry-pick their profitable services, such as bone surgery or cancer treatment, and leave them with the money losers, including caring for those who can’t pay.

CON regulations say that if someone wants to open a new medical facility, the state must first certify that there’s actually a need for it that isn’t already being served by other hospitals. Entrepreneurs say they’re blocked from innovation by CON, and that patients are deprived of choice. Hospitals say CON is vital to keeping them solvent.

According to a summary of HB 198 made public Thursday, it would eliminate CON entirely, giving new health businesses free rein to pop up. Restrictions for long-term care facilities would remain in place, though. The entire bill should be made public shortly and is likely to run dozens of pages with additional details about exemptions and protections.

“The hospital community strongly opposes the elimination of the certificate of need process,” said Ethan James, the executive vice president for external affairs at the Georgia Hospital Association. “We can support a thoughtful and measured modernization of CON, but we object to repealing the entire state health planning process.”

James thanked Hatchett for supporting an increase to a program to encourage private donations to rural hospitals, which some Republicans have posited as a trade for lifting CON restrictions.

A Senate version of the CON bill is expected soon, possibly to be sponsored by state Sen. Matt Brass, a Republican from Newnan, where the private company Cancer Treatment Centers of America has a hospital.