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Georgia House votes to lessen regulations for hospital expansions

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(The Center Square) — The Georgia House has passed a measure to reduce the guidelines for hospitals looking to expand.

Lawmakers voted 166-1 in favor of House Bill 1339. It heads to the state Senate for consideration.

“Given the rapid evolution of healthcare in this country, it was wholly appropriate that we investigate the structure and regime best able to provide Georgians with cutting edge health care that’s both accessible and affordable,” state Rep. Butch Parrish, R-Swainsboro, said on the House floor.

“But let me be the first to tell you, this is not the end-all of this,” Parrish added. “This is the beginning of a journey. We’re going to continue to look at this, but I really believe this moves us forward in the right direction. …As we go forward, let’s [not] let perfection be the enemy of doing some good.”

Parrish said the measure would increase the time to repurpose a closed hospital without a CON from 12 months to 24 months. It also extends the maximum distance for certain healthcare facilities to relocate without a CON from a three-mile radius to a five-mile radius of the original location. It increases the expansions hospitals can make if their occupancy rate is at least 60% for the past year.

Psychiatric and substance abuse inpatient programs or beds for Medicaid and uninsured patients would be exempt if an agreement is reached with a nearby hospital, while new or expanded rule-based hospital obstetric services are exempt under certain conditions.

The move follows a pair of study committees that explored whether the state should eliminate its certificate of need mandate. A Georgia Senate study committee recommended lawmakers repeal the mandate, while a House version offered more measured recommendations.

According to the Georgia Department of Community Health, CONs “measure and define” the need for a facility, aim to keep costs in check and ensure Georgians have access to healthcare. State lawmakers pondered removing the mandate last year but didn’t act.

“While we are grateful for today’s passage in the House, the bill still does not provide much-needed Certificate of Need reform for all health care providers,” Americans for Prosperity-Georgia State Director Tony West said in a statement. “We urge the Senate to quickly consider and amend this legislation so that all Georgians have better access to quality and affordable medical care.”

HB 1339 also creates a Comprehensive Health Coverage Commission tasked with advising elected officials and policymakers on opportunities to improve healthcare for the state’s low-income and uninsured populations.

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