Latest bill to overhaul health care regulations appears doomed

A sweeping bill to repeal the state’s health care regulatory process failed to clear the House by a crucial legislative deadline Tuesday, meaning it is probably dead for the year.

The regulatory system, known as certificate of need (CON), governs much of how the health care industry operates in Georgia. A medical provider must apply for and get a certificate of need from the state to begin any major project.

CON has been targeted annually by legislators proposing reforms to ease its rules. But these bills have been successfully fended off by Georgia’s hospital industry.

This year’s CON reform attempt, House Bill 1547, sought to repeal the whole regulatory system in 2025.

It failed to emerge from the House Rules Committee on Tuesday, which was Crossover Day for the 2022 session of the Georgia General Assembly. Crossover Day is the deadline for a bill to be approved by at least one legislative chamber, which gives it a chance to become law this year.

There remains a slim chance the bill could be revived, if its language is attached to legislation that’s somewhat related to it and has already been approved by one chamber. That happens in some cases, though rarely.

Meanwhile, several major bills involving health care passed at least one chamber in the days before Crossover.

They include legislation on mental health parity, caregivers for hospital patients, pharmacy benefits for Medicaid, protection of children from lead poisoning, and an indoor vaping ban. Other bills moving to another chamber would extend Medicaid coverage for uninsured people who have HIV, and for post-pregnancy low-income women from six to 12 months.

At a committee hearing last week, the CON bill’s main sponsor, House Majority Whip Matt Hatchett (R-Dublin), called CON a “monopolistic’’ system that favors large hospital systems and stifles competition, raising health care prices in the process.

Such regulatory laws were adopted by states decades ago to control health care spending. But more than a dozen states have repealed these regulatory set-ups, including recently Florida.

Under Hatchett’s bill, changes would have been made to CON in the years before repeal occurred. These provisions include:

** Allowing physician-owned surgery centers that feature multiple specialties.

** Limiting the amount of cash reserves maintained by hospitals that are run by hospital authorities.

** Allowing state assistance to people with mental illness who are uninsured.

The legislation would have replaced CON with a licensing system, maintaining the facilities’ indigent care requirement.

Members of the House Special Committee on Access to Quality Healthcare, which passed Hatchett’s bill, voiced frustration last week over the annual CON battles in the Legislature, criticizing the persistent and intense lobbying mounted by the hospital industry against changes in the regulatory system.

The bill quickly drew opposition from hospital groups.

Monty Veazey, president of the Georgia Alliance of Community Hospitals, which represents nonprofit facilities, told lawmakers last week that CON repeal would have a “devastating effect on the health care delivery system in this state.’’

He said it would worsen the current shortages of health care workers in hospitals still experiencing financial losses due to the Covid pandemic.