Hospital groups differ on benefits of Georgia’s certificate of need law

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(The Center Square) — As Georgia lawmakers continue to explore whether to reform or repeal the state’s certificate of need mandate, a statewide hospital association says the state should “streamline and simplify” the process.

“This is a very different position than we have brought before you in the past,” Anna Adams, the Georgia Hospital Association’s executive vice president of external affairs, said during a recent Senate Study Committee on Certificate of Need Reform meeting. “Previously, our statement said to protect the current certificate of need process; it no longer says that.

“At this point, it talks about supporting the state health planning process to ensure access to all healthcare services,” Adams added. “That means services that run the gamut from labor and delivery to emergency department services, imaging, surgery, etc. We want to make sure that patients have access to every individual type of service, not just an abundance of one service in particular.”

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 officials started reviewing healthcare projects in 1975, even before the General Assembly established Georgia’s CON program in 1979.

State lawmakers pondered removing the mandate during this year’s session but didn’t act.

“Remember that the original purpose of certificate of need when … the federal government encouraged all the states to pass these laws was to decrease the number of facilities in order to control federal health care reimbursements,” Jaimie Cavanaugh, an attorney with the Institute for Justice, told the committee.

“But when we’re talking about access to health care, the original purpose of certificate of need was to slow down the growth of hospitals, decrease the number of hospitals, decrease the number of hospital beds,” Cavanaugh added. “So, of course, we can’t use certificate of need to increase access to care. It’s not what it was designed to do. It was designed to do the exact opposite.”

However, the head of a community hospital group said that Georgia’s CON laws have worked and afford hospitals financial stability.

“Georgia is always changing, with a growing population and a dynamic economy, and legislators this year are doing their due diligence to make sure that state policy optimizes access to care for all Georgians,” Monty Veazey, president and CEO of the Georgia Alliance of Community Hospitals, told The Center Square.

“Our state’s nonprofit hospitals are the foundation on which access is built, and they play a unique role in providing care regardless of when you need it, regardless of what service you require and regardless of ability to pay,” Veazey added. “Our state’s CON laws have worked; they provide a lot of flexibility for the state to approve new services where they are needed while providing financial stability for hospitals.”

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