For The Record

Georgia House study panel to dig into contentious state law limiting hospital construction

By: - July 13, 2023 8:08 pm

Speaker Jon Burns speaks to the House’s study committee on hospital regulations Thursday. Jill Nolin/Georgia Recorder

House Speaker Jon Burns told members of a House study panel looking at how Georgia regulates health care services to “follow the facts” as they delve into the thorny issue this year. 

“We want to deal with the facts. Facts are pretty important. Facts help us come to the right outcomes, and that’s what we’re interested in,” Burns said to the study committee Thursday. 

“I want this group to follow the facts and arrive at recommendations which improve access to quality, affordable health care in Georgia,” Burns said. 

Proposed changes to Georgia’s rigid certificate-of-need rules are regularly met with fierce resistance from those who argue the decades-old regulations protect fragile hospitals from new facilities that might set up next door and poach profitable services. 

Opponents, though, say the rules have not prevented hospital closures. They also argue the program may be increasing health care costs and impeding access to care in some communities, where new or expanded facilities have been stymied by the regulations.

But the frequent Gold Dome fight was revived in a big way during the 2023 legislative session when Lt. Gov. Burt Jones put his energy into ending the rules in rural Georgia, where cash-strapped hospitals struggle to keep their doors open.

State Rep. Butch Parrish, a Swainsboro Republican, is the chair of the House’s study committee on certificate of need. Jill Nolin/Georgia Recorder

The Senate passed a bill with a 42-13 vote this year that would have exempted counties with fewer than 50,000 people from the certificate-of-need process, but the bill stalled in the House, where it remains alive for next year.

That proposal would have cleared the path for a new hospital in Butts County, where Jones’ father owns property considered as a potential site for a new facility that would have qualified under the bill. Jones later defended the proposal as one that would benefit more than just one community. 

Months have now passed since the bitter end-of-session jockeying waylaid the speaker’s priority bill, which was designed to build upon last year’s major mental health law. Both chambers are already gearing up to revisit the hospital regulatory debate next session, which starts in January. 

The Senate has its own study committee, which it has styled as a “reform” panel. The House, meanwhile, has framed its committee as one looking at “modernization.” The names are a subtle but telling difference, and Burns’ in-person delivery of the committee’s assignment indicates the stakes. 

Rep. Butch Parrish, a Swainsboro Republican, said Georgia has modified the program here and there over the decades but that “given the rapid evolution of health care in this country,” it’s time to take a hard look at the state’s health care regulations.

“This study committee is intended to be a vehicle that will move us all in the same general direction, making improvements, clarifying ambiguities and putting behind us as many roadblocks as possible,” Parrish said. “I want to be very clear that we do not come to this sequence of hearings with our minds made up about the future of CON. We will rely on no preconceived notions.”

But all this doesn’t mean major changes next session are a foregone conclusion.

“For me, your charge is simple: to examine Georgia’s health care landscape and see if our certificate of need program needs to be modernized to better meet the health care needs of the citizens of this state,” Burns said to the panel Thursday.

The Senate study committee held its first meeting last month. 


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Jill Nolin
Jill Nolin

Jill Nolin has spent nearly 15 years reporting on state and local government in four states, focusing on policy and political stories and tracking public spending. She has spent the last five years chasing stories in the halls of Georgia’s Gold Dome, earning recognition for her work showing the impact of rising opioid addiction on the state’s rural communities. She is a graduate of Troy University.