Georgia Senate Committee begins work with statements opposing health approvals

ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia senators on Tuesday began considering whether the state should continue to require permits to build health-care facilities after a push to relax rules spread to a standoff between the House and Senate during this year’s legislative session .

At the first meeting, it became clear that many committee members appointed by Lt. Gov. Burt Jones wanted a full or partial repeal of Georgia’s requirement statement rules.

“Georgians would be better off if the Peach State joined the states that don’t have CON (Certificate of Need) laws,” said Thomas Stratmann, a professor at George Mason University in Virginia. Stratmann, one of the study board’s invited witnesses, works with the Mercatus Center, a free market think tank.

But the senators are unlikely to have the final say. The House of Representatives has its own Study Committee, which will begin at a later date. It is unlikely that it will become clear what each chamber wants until legislation for the 2024 legislature is passed.

Georgia has had requirement certificates since the 1970s, requiring someone wishing to build a new healthcare facility or offer new services to demonstrate that an expansion is required. The permits are intended to prevent excessive spending, which would lead to an increase in healthcare costs.

But established hospitals and healthcare providers often reject new developments. Those who don’t like the allowances say the law has lost its usefulness as the government and insurers are now trying to control costs by negotiating prices in advance. Instead, certificates would prevent the necessary competition and support the revenues of existing healthcare facilities.

“When hospitals enjoy this monopoly, everyone pays more,” said Barry Herrin, an Atlanta health attorney.

While some states have repealed needs certification laws, Georgia is among the 34 states and the District of Columbia that still apply them.

The Georgia Hospital Association argues that the law, in at least some cases, is necessary to ensure that outpatient surgery centers and other providers don’t skim a hospital’s most profitable procedures. Keri Conley, the association’s general counsel, told lawmakers that hospitals need to charge more because they have to care for patients around the clock.

“The more patients we’re getting out of the hospital, the higher the cost that we’re going to have to figure out how to fund behind the scenes to keep those other services available,” Conley said.

Association officials said it would soon come up with its own proposal to amend Georgia’s laws.

Stratmann and others said their research shows that licensing affects health care access and quality of care by restricting competition. But Josselyn Hill, a Senate research analyst, said the research draws few clear conclusions about whether needs certification legislation impacts cost and quality.

Opponents said if the research doesn’t show clear benefits, that’s grounds for repealing the law.

“Unless it shows clear results for keeping regulation, it’s hard to justify a monopoly and be anti-competitive,” said Senator Ben Watson, a Savannah Republican and physician.

On Tuesday, there were repeated discussions about rural areas in Georgia where hospitals were shutting down, keeping some residents away from medical care. Supporters of the repeal said states would have more rural hospitals without permits, but it’s unclear what would happen in Georgia if the restrictions were lifted.

Much of this year’s debate revolved around a Senate bill that would have eliminated the need for hospital certification in counties with fewer than 50,000 residents. This measure was aimed at allowing an unknown company to build a new hospital in Butts County, home of Lieutenant Governor Burt Jones.

There, the Marietta-based Wellstar Health System operates the county’s Sylvan Grove Hospital. District officials say the 25-bed hospital is not providing enough services.

Wellstar said a new 100-bed hospital would hurt both Sylvan Grove and the 160-bed Wellstar Spalding Regional Hospital in nearby Griffin.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that a new hospital could be built on land bought by Bill Jones, Burt Jones’ father. Depictions of Butts County show a hospital on part of the site. The lieutenant governor’s office said no location had been designated.