The Georgia House study panel is tackling controversial state laws restricting hospital construction

House Speaker Jon Burns told members of a House study panel examining how Georgia regulates health care services to “follow the facts” as they address the thorny issue this year.

“We want to deal with facts. Facts are pretty important. Facts help us get the right results, and that is what we are interested in,” Burns told the study committee on Thursday.

“I want this group to follow the facts and arrive at recommendations that will improve access to quality, affordable health care in Georgia,” Burns said.

Proposed changes to Georgia’s strict certificate of need rules regularly face stiff opposition from those who argue that the decades-old rules protect fragile hospitals from new facilities that could spring up next door and poach profitable services.

But opponents say the rules have not prevented hospitals from closing. They also argue that the program has the potential to drive up health care costs and hinder access to health care in some communities where new or expanded facilities are hampered by regulations.

But the frequent battle over the Gold Dome was revived in a big way during the 2023 legislative session, as Lieutenant Governor Burt Jones poured his energy into the cause end the rules in rural Georgia, where cash-strapped hospitals struggle to keep their doors open.

State Representative Butch Parrish, a Republican from Swainsboro, is chairman of the House Certificate of Need Study Committee. Jill Nolin/Georgia recorder

The Senate passed a The invoice However, with a 42-13 vote this year that would have exempted counties with fewer than 50,000 residents from the need certification, the bill failed in the House of Representatives, where it will remain in place until next year.

This proposal would have paved the way for a new hospital in Butts County, where Jones’ father owns property that is being considered as a potential site for a new facility that would have been considered under the bill. Jones later defended the proposal as one that would benefit more than just one community.

Months have now passed since the bitter tussle at the end of the meeting invaded the speaker’s priority submission, which was intended to build on last year’s major mental health bill. Both chambers are already preparing to revisit the hospital regulation debate in the next session, which begins in January.

The Senate has its own study committee, which it has called a “reform” panel. The House of Representatives, meanwhile, has designated its committee as one that deals with “modernization.” The names are a subtle but telling difference, and Burns’ personal delivery of the committee assignment shows what matters.

Rep. Butch Parrish, a Republican from Swainsboro, said Georgia has made changes to the program here and there over the decades, but “given the rapid evolution of health care in this country,” it is time to bring the state’s health care regulations right under to take a magnifying glass.

“This study committee is intended to be a vehicle to move us all in the same general direction, making improvements, clarifying ambiguities and removing as many obstacles as possible,” Parrish said. “I want to be clear that we do not come to this series of hearings with a clear view on the future of CON. We don’t rely on preconceived notions.”

However, all of this does not mean that major changes are a given in the next meeting.

“To me, your mission is simple: examine Georgia’s healthcare landscape and determine whether our certificate of need program needs to be modernized to better meet the healthcare needs of the citizens of this state,” Burns told the panel Thursday.

The Senate Study Committee met his first meeting Last month.