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Local News

Georgia House OKs bill to ease restrictions on construction of new hospitals in state

State Rep. Butch Parrish, a Swainsboro Republican, is the main sponsor of a new health care bill. (Credit: Jill Nolin/Georgia Recorder)

Jill Nolin, Georgia Recorder
February 27, 2024

A proposal to loosen Georgia’s business regulations for health care services easily cleared the House Tuesday.

The bill, sponsored by the powerful House Rules chairman, Swainsboro Republican Rep. Butch Parrish, would allow new hospitals to open in rural Georgia without going through what is called the certificate-of-need process if they satisfy certain requirements, such as agreeing to be a teaching hospital.

The obscure sounding regulatory program controls the number of health care services in a geographic area by requiring providers that want to open or expand to show there is a demand for more services. A nearby rival can challenge an application, slowing or blocking the project.

Hospitals have long resisted changes to the program, which they argue protects safety-net health care facilities from pop-up providers that may try to peel off the more profitable services.

Parrish’s measure also eases these restrictions for new or expanded obstetric services for rural hospitals and new or expanded psychiatric or substance abuse inpatient programs. And it increases the cap on the state’s rural hospital tax credit program, lifting it to $100 million a year.

Supporters of the bill say the measure will help address the state’s lagging mental health system and Georgia’s maternal mortality rates while easing the path for more hospitals in rural communities across the state.

“This is a very good piece of bipartisan legislation that will improve health care outcomes for Georgians all across the state,” Parrish said Tuesday.

But others expressed disappointment even as they backed the bill.

This year’s legislative session had started with talk of Medicaid expansion after key GOP leaders expressed a new openness to a private option similar to what was done in Arkansas.

But when Parrish filed the House’s long-awaited health care proposal, it was seen as an acknowledgement that this would not be the year that Georgia expands the public insurance program for the poor. Georgia is one of 10 states that have not expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

Instead, the bill calls for the creation of the Comprehensive Health Coverage Commission. Rep. Michelle Au, a Johns Creek Democrat, said the commission may feel like action but she argues it is not.

“I think this piece of legislation shows that this body as a whole prioritizes increasing care access in the state of Georgia. I just wish our action in service of that goal was a little bit bolder,” Au said. 

Au said it is not the state’s certificate of need program that is causing hospitals to close their doors. Rather, she pointed to the state’s high uninsured rate, which is among the worst in the nation.

“Making it somewhat easier to open up more hospitals or more beds or to streamline paperwork does not address that core issue, just like opening up 20 new restaurants or putting more items on the menu cannot mitigate chronic hunger in people who cannot afford food,” she said to her colleagues Tuesday.

Parrish pitched the bill as a chance to make incremental progress.

“This is not the end of all of this. This is the beginning of a journey,” Parrish said. “We’re going to continue to look at this, but I really believe this moves us forward in the right direction, and I hope that you’ll join with me. And as we go forward, let’s not let perfection be the enemy of doing some good.” 

The bill now goes to the Senate, where lawmakers have pressed for more drastic changes to Georgia’s certificate-of-need rules. 

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: info@georgiarecorder.com. Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.

This article is republished from Georgia Recorder under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.