By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great local journalism.
Why these state, federal lawmakers want to change how medical centers can open
0120203 HOSPITAL.jpg
From left, Georgia Public Policy Foundation's Chris Denson, state Sen. Greg Dolezal and U.S. Rep. Rich McCormick speak at the Americans for Prosperity Georgia chapter’s recent discussion on repealing the certificate of need requirements for health centers in the state. - photo by Kelly Whitmire

State and federal lawmakers representing Forsyth County recently spoke at a meeting to challenge the state’s certificate of need laws, which set rules for opening and expanding medical centers.

On Tuesday, Jan. 17, Americans for Prosperity’s Georgia chapter hosted Putting Patients First at Lanier Technical College, to discuss repealing the certificate of need requirements and featured a panel of U.S. Rep. Rich McCormick, state Sen. Greg Dolezal and Georgia Public Policy Foundation's Chris Denson.

Before the panel, Katie Chubb of the Augusta Birth Center spoke about her experience trying to open a new facility in south Georgia, which she said was blocked by other providers.

“We have 500 letters of support, we have women lining up for this service, we were going to tackle access to care, have a bus that traveled out to rural communities, we were going to stop this six to eight-month wait for appointments, and the local hospitals blocked us from opening by exploiting a loophole law in the Certificate of Need,” she said. 

According to information from the Georgia Department of Community Health, the certificate of need program was established in the state in 1979 with the goal that “healthcare services and facilities should be provided in a manner that avoids unnecessary duplication of services, that is cost-effective, that provides quality health care services, and that is compatible with the health care needs of the various areas and populations of the state.”

The certificates are required for new hospitals, expanding nursing homes and home health agencies, facilities offering new healthcare services and more and, as part of the process, applications can be challenged by nearby healthcare providers offering similar services.

“In Georgia, we have roughly 50 different health care services including new hospitals, expansion of beds, diagnostic imaging, labs, mental health services, all sorts of other different service lines that you have to actually apply to the state to get a certificate of need license to move forward with to create this new service for your community,” Denson said.

Denson said the idea behind the process is that hospitals and health care providers, particularly in rural areas, generate money through primarily imaging, elective surgeries and lab work and that opening services with those uses would cut into funds and lead to closures.

“Unfortunately, and I feel sorry for so many of our rural hospitals and rural health advocates across the state, but the economic issues that they’re facing, getting rid of certificate of need in the state is not going to close rural hospitals,” said Dunn, who said he previously worked for a hospital system in southeast Georgia.

“You can look at Texas, you can look at California, look at Pennsylvania, states that have done away with certificate of need, and they have not had anywhere near the rural hospital closures that Georgia has had, and we have a certificate of need  process in place.”

Dolezal said the process was last discussed in 2019 and this year’s session will have new state Senate and House leadership, which could lead to renewed discussions on the process.

“We’re going to have a serious conversation because we need to have that conversation,” he said. “The prospects? I honestly have no idea because I think a lot of it depends on the interplay between the House and the Senate. We actually sent that Senate bill in 2019 to the House as a much broader, more robust bill, and it got pared back pretty significantly. There may be a different appetite at the House this year.”

McCormick, who worked as a surgeon at Northside Hospital Gwinnett before taking office, said he believed the process was a case of the government attempting to solve one problem and creating new ones.

“There is no solution the government is going to bring to you and say, ‘We are going to fix this by more regulation,’ McCormick said. “What we’re going to talk about is… we don’t believe government is the solution for the people, and fair markets are the solution. That’s always been what made America great.”

Organizers are planning to host a day at the Georgia State Capitol to advocate for repealing certificate of need at the state level on Tuesday, Feb. 28.