ATLANTA (AP) — A House bill that would remove limitations placed on a for-profit cancer hospital under a 2008 deal with Georgia lawmakers has run into stiff opposition.
Illinois-based Cancer Treatment Centers of America was allowed to set up shop in Newnan after pledging that 65 percent of its patients would come from outside Georgia, and that it would limit the number of patient beds to 50.
It got the OK in 2008 only after it agreed to the limitations. Now CTCA, which ran into stiff opposition in the legislature when it first tried to gain entry to the state in 2007, wants to remove the limitations. For-profit hospitals and their supporters in the Legislature are upset, and also perplexed that the issue has come up so late in the session.
Rep. Wendell Willard, R-Sandy Springs, author of the new bill, said in an interview with The Associated Press that those limitations smack of "socialized medicine" and should be eliminated. He said the regulations give an unfair advantage to other hospitals.
David Kent, CEO of the CTCA hospital, said the Newnan facility has had to turn away Georgians because of the caps and that "it's wrong to say 'No' to a cancer patient that they can't choose where to get treatment."
A House committee will hold a hearing Tuesday afternoon on the latest CTCA bill.
After weeks of heated debate in the 2007 and 2008 sessions, a deal was struck granting CTCA an exemption from the state's Byzantine "certificate of need" system that, among other things, regulates construction of new hospitals and related medical facilities.
Willard said the CON law is a relic from the 1960s and 1970s when most hospitals were small and rural. He said most states have done away with similar regulatory structures and that Georgia should, too.
"Everybody says, 'The sky is falling''', Kent said, referring to claims by nonprofit hospitals that changing the CON structure would destabilize Georgia's health care system. "The idea that a hospital that only does cancer is something going to destabilize the health care system is ludicrous."
Willard, who refers to hospitals such as Emory, Piedmont and Northside in Atlanta as "charity hospitals," said CON exists mostly to make money for hospital lawyers and others involved in the infrastructure of running the regulatory system.
Monty Veazey, president of the Georgia Alliance of Community Hospitals, said it would be wrong for the Legislature to "renege" on the 2008 agreement, which would amount to "special treatment for an out of state corporation."
He said CTCA admits patients based on their ability to pay, and because it doesn't have an emergency room, does not have to pay for patients who can't cover their bills, unlike other hospitals, which must eat those costs.
"Ninety-one percent of their business is commercially insured," Veazey said. "It's about 35 percent for the average hospital."
Kevin Bloye, vice president of the Georgia Hospital Association, said "CTCA should have some of the same burdens other hospitals do," especially with so many hospitals struggling.
"Four out of 10 hospitals in the state in 2012 finished with negative total operating margins," Bloye said. "Five have closed since 2013. CTCA wants special treatment from the Georgia Legislature. The difference between CTCA and the rest of the hospital community is, nonprofit hospitals treat everyone regardless of ability to pay."
Both Bloye and Veazey said CTCA has not met its indigent care requirement.
Kent, in an interview, vehemently disputed that claim.
"We're required to do 3 percent indigent and charity," Kent said. "In 2013 we did 3.6."
He said the hospital groups, like CTCA, should be more interested in treating Georgians and not ever turn people away because of limits.
Kent said CTCA agreed to the restrictions because it had no choice, and "we had to fight tooth and nail just to get what we got."
Veazey also called CTCA a "spa" hospital for the wealthy that practices pseudoscience.
Kent said CTCA does what nonprofit hospitals do.
A special committee appointed by Gov. Nathan Deal to study the financial problems of the state's rural hospitals recommended the CON law be maintained in its current form.