“Pure politics.” That’s how Cancer Treatment Centers of America describes the opposition to legislation that would allow the cancer hospital to expand its capacity...

“Pure politics.”

That’s how Cancer Treatment Centers of America describes the opposition to legislation that would allow the cancer hospital to expand its capacity – and treat more Georgians.

David Kent

David Kent

“This is not about the citizens of Georgia,’’ said David Kent, chief operating officer of CTCA’s hospital in Newnan. “This is about [other] hospitals protecting their turf.”

Kent, in an interview with GHN, gave a passionate defense of House Bill 482, introduced Tuesday in the Georgia General Assembly. The proposal would eliminate a requirement that 65 percent of the cancer hospital’s patients come from out of state – a provision enacted by the Legislature in 2008 when it allowed CTCA to build the facility.

The new legislation is fiercely opposed by the state’s hospital associations.

Kent told Georgia Health News on Wednesday that due to the 65 percent restriction, the CTCA facility has been forced not to admit some Georgians seeking care.

“We started turning Georgia patients away last fall,’’ Kent said.

He said the hospitals’ opposition to the bill is more about protecting their competitive advantage gained through the state’s certificate of need (CON) program.

CON is the regulatory apparatus in Georgia, as in some other states, that governs the construction and expansion of health care facilities.

Under Georgia law, hospitals are required to obtain CON licenses for major construction projects and service expansions. CON aims at controlling health care costs, but many states have repealed such laws.

Jimmy Lewis of HomeTown Health, an association of rural hospitals, said House Bill 482 could open up the whole regulatory process to a sweeping revamp.

“CON protects the health of smaller rural hospitals and protects counties that support them financially,’’ Lewis said.

The cancer hospital legislation, he added, could destabilize a hospital industry that’s already suffering financially.

Kent, though, called the current CON system “ridiculous.”

Cancer Treatment Center of America's hospital in Newnan

Cancer Treatment Center of America’s hospital in Newnan

“We have hospitals that have effectively lobbied that it’s good for hospitals,’’ Kent said. “The only people who like it and benefit are the hospitals.”

“The real question is, do the legislators support the patients’ right to choose on where to get their health care services?’’ Kent said.

House Bill 482, besides abolishing the 65 percent rule, would also end the current 50-bed cap on CTCA’s hospital.

The facility’s bed census is now spiking into the 40s, Kent said. “We’re bumping up against 50.”

A for-profit company known for its sophisticated marketing, CTCA also operates cancer hospitals in Philadelphia, Tulsa, Phoenix and Chicago. Its Newnan facility opened in 2012.

CTCA has been politically active with financial contributions. The AJC reported last year that since 2006, the company has contributed about $340,000.

Hospital groups have raised questions about CTCA’s adherence to the out-of-state patient limit, as well as about whether it is meeting its requirement to do a minimum of charity care.

In a letter this week to House lawmakers, the Georgia Alliance of Community Hospitals, which represents nonprofit facilities, argued that CTCA “has already harmed hospitals in its region, recruiting away many of their nurses, who are in short supply and costly to replace and train. A large CTCA hospital would likely recruit away more skilled staff.”

“According to [a state health agency] CTCA served no Medicaid patients and reported zero dollars in indigent/charity care in 2013,’’ said the letter from alliance president Monty Veazey.

“CTCA should not be rewarded for catering to patients with private insurance, not operating an emergency department, and leaving the financial burden of Medicaid shortfalls and indigent care to community hospitals,” Veazey said.

Kent said the hospital groups’ statements painted an unfair picture of CTCA. These organizations, he said, “have created a story that’s false or bends the truth.”

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Andy Miller

Andy Miller is editor and CEO of Georgia Health News

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