A lot of heavy lifting needs to be done to improve Georgia’s health-care system. 

House Bill 198 is a good start.

The measure would overhaul hospital regulation and oversight.

The 80-plus page bill is expansive and would, more than likely, increase competition and that is rarely bad for the consumer, or in this case, the patient.

The state’s certificate of need process for licensing new medical facilities requires providers to jump through a lot of hoops to prove a need exists in an area before a new hospital even begins the arduous approval processes.

While this certificate of need law has been touted over the years as a measure to protect consumers, what it really does is protect the business model of large hospitals.

The marketplace will quickly determine whether there is a need for services but people in rural Georgia will tell anyone who asks that having too many hospitals is not a problem anywhere outside of metro Atlanta. 

Allowing more health-care providers should drive down costs and improve the quality of care. The current certificate of need process effectively creates hospital monopolies in many pockets of the state and, it can be argued, contributes to health-care deserts in the most remote parts of Georgia.

Still, medical centers protest saying that potential new competitors would only compete for the most profitable services. Which they say would threaten a hospital’s viability and a community’s access to emergency services.

The Georgia Hospital Association does not like the measure and that alone could be good reason to support it. Seven rural hospitals in Georgia have closed over the past decade but that does not mean more hospitals are not needed. It could very well mean there is a broken system that favors mega medical centers, effectively making it impossible for some smaller hospitals to compete.

Clearly, the GHA lobby is opposed to increased competition that can be seen as a threat to the business models of existing hospitals that are members of the association.

The state’s certificate of need program has worn out its need.

Established hospitals have been using the certificate of need requirement to block competition for too long. The laws were created in the 1960s to eliminate duplication of services but that is just not a problem in rural Georgia.

The best part of House Bill 198 is it will increase transparency, especially among the state’s nonprofit hospitals.

With increased transparency comes more accountability.

Hospitals, including nonprofits, are providing a public service and their records should be public. The measure would make it easier for a community to see how hospital monies are being spent, what administrators are being paid and how much money is being made or lost.

In fact, this measure calls for a lot of transparency including the disclosure of detailed financial statements, IRS forms, annual state questionnaires, community benefit reports, indigent care reports, corporate structure charts, salaries and fringe benefits of top administrators and hospital accreditation information.

This is all valuable information that should be open to the public and easy to access.

Improved hospital transparency will be good for Georgia, good for hospitals and good for patients.

CNHI Deputy National Editor Jim Zachary is vice president of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation, director of the Transparency Project of Georgia, CNHI’s regional editor for its Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, Alabama and Texas newspapers and editor of The Valdosta Daily Times. 

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