A Newnan speciality hospital has launched a multimedia campaign to convince legislators to relax state rules on how medical facilities can be built or expanded.
Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) Southeastern is airing radio and television commercials in an effort to spur grassroots support for change or repeal of Georgia’s law that allows state officials to decide if there is a need for a proposed medical facility. Without a certificate of need from the Georgia Department of Community Health, no hospital or clinic can open or add on.
Lawmakers have predicted a bill about the certificate of need, or CON, will be introduced when the General Assembly convenes next month.
“The campaign, known as SpeakNowGeorgia is ongoing,” explained spokesperson Roland Alonzi. “The coalition is dedicated to continuing in 2017 in an effort to educate and raise awareness of the certificate-of-need laws that we are looking to revise.”
According to SpeakNow representatives, the campaign is being led by volunteers who are mostly patients and former patients. Company officials say it involves “low overhead and minimal operating costs.”
CTCA is known, however, for big-budget advertisements, according to BenefitsPro, a website and magazine geared toward benefits and retirement professionals. A recent article indicated that the chain of health care facilities, which includes a network of five hospitals in the U.S., budgets more than $100 million annually for advertising.
The CON advertising campaign features restaurant guests being turned away by the proprietor. It’s meant to illustrate the limit legislators imposed on CTCA when it was seeking to built the Newnan facility in 2012. Under pressure from existing hospitals worried about losing the lucrative insured cancer patients, lawmakers created a category of “destination” health care facility for CTCA because it argued it would be attracting patients from across the country with its blend of treatment and moral support.
To get permission to build its initial 50 beds, CTCA agreed to accept no more than 35 percent of patients from Georgia, the rest from elsewhere.
Ever since operations began here, the company has chafed at the limit.
“My job is to make sure that if people want access here, they will get access here,” CTCA’s Newnan Chief Operating Officer David Kent said in a 2015 interview on the topic. “We have to have the buildings, the space, the talent, and the capability.”
After exponential growth in the first year of operation, members of the board at the local facility began to fear the hospital would be forced to quell future growth and suppress demand for services in Georgia. That fear was realized in 2014 when, according to Kent, Georgia patients were being denied treatment. CTCA then made a legislative bid for reclassification, asking to be reassigned as an acute-care hospital, a designation that is the same as nearby Piedmont Newnan Hospital and other traditional hospitals throughout the state.
“We cannot add more beds, more services or more talented physicians,” Kent said, noting that all these things benefit cancer patients. “The Certificate of Need laws in this state prevent that.”
The hospital dropped its legislative bid for reclassification in 2015 when the attempt was met with opposition again from traditional hospitals. Board members then appealed directly to the Department of Community Health and won an initial approval, but the appeal was later dismissed by the commissioner, who cited controversy as the primary reason for rejection.
Contention stems from Kent’s claim that the board’s request for reclassification is simply to “have the same rules apply,” to CTCA. According to Georgia Hospital Association Senior Vice President of Government Relations, Ethan James, the facility has another objective in mind.
“If given the opportunity, CTCA will cherry-pick patients based on those who have the ‘best’ insurance,” James said, noting that the association has long suspected the for-profit cancer facility of turning away patients with no insurance and low incomes.
The commercial, according to James, implies that patients are not currently able to freely choose where to receive cancer care. CTCA indicates that, with a reclassification, patients will then be given that option.
In the 2015 interview Kent rejected similar comments, noting that, ostensibly, the goal for every healthcare provider whether publicly or privately funded is “to build a sustainable business.”
“The challenge is attracting good-paying patients in order to cover your overhead (the investment of a health care facility),” Kent said. “That is, unfortunately, the financial reality of health care.”
According to Kent, all health care facilities compete for good-paying patients, and all have a similar goal in mind: To treat every patient while continuing to “build services and products so that all patients want to access you.”
“Will we see non-paying patients,” Kent asked. “Yes, we will and we do. In addition, CTCA has given away $45 million in free care. We are digging into the local community.”
Kent explained that the number of low-income patients treated by the hospital may never equal that of Newnan’s other, nonprofit health care facilities, though.
“We are limited to taking care of cancer patients,” Kent said. “There are only so many cancer patients... Most of the charity that happens in nonprofit situations happens in the emergency room.”
According to the hospital association, the cancer treatment facility does not adhere to regulations relating to low income, uninsured or underinsured patients, so-called indigent care, at least not on paper.
“CTCA does not comply with the law to disclose data regarding indigent care,” James said. “There is no data indicating the hospital meets requirements.”
James noted that if CTCA expands and continues to discriminate against uninsured sufferers, all cancer patients will subsequently be affected. Nonprofit cancer treatment centers like those found in nearby hospitals and those located across the state, will ultimately lose money if left with only the uninsured to treat.
“Those hospitals may then be forced to cut back on various lines of services offered,” he said. “It could hinder cancer and other specialty care in local hospitals.”
According to James, Kent’s claim that all health care facilities must compete for good-paying patients is only half of the story.
“No one is competing for the uninsured,” James said. “The uninsured suffer. Many are denied treatment or do not request care until an illness, like cancer, is in a late stage, even untreatable.”