Editor's Note: This story has been updated in regards to the committee that the bill has been assigned to. It will be heard by the Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee, not the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.
Bills have been introduced to do away with Georgia’s controversial “Certificate of Need” process for medical facilities.
State Sen. Matt Brass, R-Newnan, is the sponsor of the Senate version, Senate Bill 74. Both a Senate and House version were introduced on Thursday. The bills are nearly the same, except the House version includes changes to the rural hospital tax credit, Brass said.
The bill replaces the CON process for hospitals with a licensure process that allows facilities within a 10-mile radius to object to new facilities. Behavioral health facilities and inpatient drug treatment centers will be exempt from that process, said Brass. So will all facilities in the state’s Health Planning Area Three, a 13-county region in metro-Atlanta.
Coweta County is not in Area Three.
The CON process will remain mostly unchanged for long-term care facilities, skilled nursing facilities and intermediate care facilities under the bill.
The bill also removes restrictions on Cancer Treatment Centers of America. Currently, the CON for CTCA requires that 65 percent of its patients be from outside of Georgia. If the hospital doesn’t meet that goal in any given year, it is fined $2 million. The fine increases if the hospital doesn’t meet the requirement in consecutive years.
Though hospitals would no longer have to deal with the CON process under the Senate bill, they would have to meet new requirements as part of the licensure process. Those requirements apply to hospitals within Area Three as well.
“No matter where they are going – number 1, they’re all going to have to take Medicaid, whether they are for-profit or nonprofit,” Brass said.
Hospitals will also have to provide a certain amount of “indigent care,” for patients who cannot afford to pay.
Nonprofit hospitals will have to provide a percentage of indigent care equal to the rolling two-year average of all hospitals in the state, Brass said. For-profit hospitals will get to subtract 3 percentage points from the average for their indigent care quota. “That is essentially giving them credit for paying taxes,” Brass said.
If any hospital can’t meet those indigent care quotas, they will be required to pay penalties, which will go into the state Indigent Care Trust Fund. Trust fund money goes to rural hospitals and to Medicaid, Brass said.
Brass said he trust fund already exists, and the change is going to help build up that fund to help rural Georgia and help our Medicaid population.
The indigent care requirements are intended to help distribute indigent care among all the hospitals in Georgia, not just in isolated areas. In some rural areas of Georgia, hospitals are providing high percentages of uncompensated care.
The bill was sent to the Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee. Brass serves as co chair of the committee.