Change Georgia laws to improve access to health care

Several of Georgia’s hospital regulations should be changed or scrapped to give patients better access to health care, advocates and policy analysts told a House of Representatives committee in Augusta.

Georgia House’s study committee on modernizing the needs assessment met Tuesday morning at Augusta University to hear testimony and interview experts about the current effectiveness and possible improvements of the state’s needs assessment process.

Georgia is one of 35 states with a CON program regulating hospitals, nursing facilities, and medical services. Anyone wishing to establish a medical facility in Georgia must apply for a certificate and justify the need for the facility.

Critics said the structure of Georgia’s CON program disadvantages the state’s rural areas in sparsely populated communities where timely and efficient health care is often of paramount importance. A CON is sometimes referred to by critics as a “competitor’s veto” because regulations can allow larger healthcare providers to publicly oppose potential smaller competitors and keep them out of the market.

Katie Chubb delivers a press conference with Americans for Prosperity-Georgia following the Certificate-of-Need Modernization study committee meeting on the Augusta University Summerville campus Tuesday, August 1, 2023. Chubb received her application to open a birthing center in Augusta for that reason denied under Georgia's needs certification laws.

Katie Chubb has attempted to establish the local Augusta Birth Center to offer a health alternative to expectant mothers. She told committee members on Tuesday about the arduous task of filling out the 800+ page CON application – and how the application was denied in 2021 after other hospitals complained that the birthing center was not needed.

“It was competition, and that’s monopolization,” she said.

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Liz Coyle, executive director of consumer advocacy group Georgia Watch, said her organization was emboldened by the Georgia Department of Community Health’s proposal earlier this year to require a hospital to issue a 180-day written public notice before making changes to the health care policy Hospital services are proposed .

Marietta-based Wellstar Health Systems temporarily closed two hospitals in the Atlanta area that served mostly black populations in 2022.

“Currently, hospitals like Wellstar only had to give 30 days’ notice. That was part of the reason this incident was so incredibly devastating and disturbing,” Coyle said. “We believe that while we support DCH’s adoption of this amendment, we do. Ask lawmakers to consider making it law.”

Augusta Physician and State Representative Mark Newton, R-Augusta, sits on the House of Representatives CON Study Committee.

“Georgia is a very diverse country,” he said. “People’s desire for care in the form of a center of excellence is increasing as people want them or their family members to go to a place that has volume that supports excellence in care, be it obstetrics, cardiac care , orthopedic care, or cancer care.” The CON problem has “many moving parts.”