Latest effort to help cancer hospital fails amid acrimony

Another bid to ease restrictions on Cancer Treatment Centers of America failed to pass a House health committee Wednesday.

The 15-13 vote came after a similar measure went down to defeat last week in the House Health and Human Services Committee.

This time, provisions that would allow children’s hospitals to “co-locate’’ pediatric beds in adult hospitals got caught up in the CTCA uproar. The popular pediatric proposal, which had passed in a separate bill last week, was attached to the newly revised CTCA legislation, apparently to boost the cancer hospital’s chances.

Senate Bill 31 would relax rules, set in place a decade ago by the General Assembly, requiring that the CTCA hospital in Newnan have no more than 50 beds and have no more than 35 percent Georgia residents among its patients. (The hospital is the chain’s regional center for the Southeastern United States.)

The proposed change has been vigorously opposed by the Georgia Hospital Association and the Georgia Alliance of Community Hospitals.

These hospital groups strongly defend the status quo when it comes to Georgia’s powerful regulatory process for health care facilities — known as certificate of need, or CON. They have said that the CTCA hospital has not fulfilled its statutory obligations to deliver sufficient charity or indigent care.

The cancer hospital says it meets its charity requirements, and has emphasized the issue of patient choice in selecting treatment.


Rep. Matt Hatchett, a Dublin Republican, sponsored the new version of Senate Bill 31, and urged the committee to address the issue of certificate of need and how it currently works.

“To me, we’ve got to do something’’ on CON, Hatchett said. “We keep pushing [CON] down the road.’’

Before the panel voted, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, a key backer of the pediatric bed legislation in Senate Bill 81, said it was backing off that proposal, which sought to create a new category in CON laws to allow children’s hospitals to have children’s beds “co-located’’ within a regular adult hospital. Both entities would jointly apply for the CON under the new category.

Hatchett said Children’s Healthcare received “unforeseen pressure’’ from other hospitals to withdraw its support of the pediatric beds measure, as the idea got snagged into the CTCA controversy.

After the vote, the chair of the panel, Rep. Sharon Cooper, criticized the unwavering hospital opposition to CON changes.


“I could care less about the hospitals and the doctors,’’ she said. “What I care about is the patients, and what’s best for patients,’’ including their choice of medical providers.

She praised the children’s “co-located’’ beds proposal and said it was “terrible’’ that the idea fell victim to the CTCA debate.

Cooper, a Marietta Republican, had harsh words for the hospital industry. “Shame on you,’’ she said, directing her criticism at the many industry officials in the audience. “It’s all about money and all the hospitals you can buy.’’

After the hearing, Ethan James of the Georgia Hospital Association told GHN that “I’m glad the committee realized that protecting CON and not making changes to it is important.’’

“We do focus on patients,’’ James added, referring to Cooper’s statement. “We focus on all patients, not just insured patients.’’

Lawmakers are expected to review certificate of need rules this coming summer in a study committee.  Cooper urged hospital officials to “negotiate in good faith.’’

Rep. Michele Henson, a Stone Mountain Democrat, voted against the CTCA bill but nevertheless said that “we really need to look at [CON], away from the Legislature.’’

Hatchett told GHN that he was disappointed in the committee vote. He added, though, that he felt there was momentum from lawmakers to update the CON regulations.