Editor’s note: This is the first of a two part series on the state legislature’s focus on rural development

In efforts to revitalize rural Georgia, health care is expected to be one of the hot topics in the upcoming legislative session. That was apparent Thursday morning when members of the House Rural Development Council presented their recommendations, most of which focused on health care and economic growth.

The committee, co-chaired by State Representatives Terry England (R-Auburn) and Jay Powell (R-Camilla), is calling for legislation that would eliminate the “certificate of need” or CON process and replace it with a “rigorous accreditation and licensing process for new providers.”

Under current law, anyone who wants to open or expand a hospital or substantial medical provider has to get permission from the state, or a CON. Under the proposed recommendations, new providers in a 10-county Atlanta would not go through a license review once accreditation is obtained. However, outside that area, or within 20 miles of any existing hospital, there would be a “rigorous” process to apply for a license from the state.”

Chairman England presented the recommendations concerning healthcare, and in reading the report, stated, “The current system for health care delivery must be revolutionized to provide the level of access, quality and cost controls that support better health outcomes for Georgians. The state should revolutionize the industry by shifting from the current restrictive, regulatory Certificate of Need model to an accreditation and licensing process for hospitals that recognizes and encourages care outcomes.”

The reports also states that “there is a lack of transparency for financial and community standards of care that must be addressed to promote equitable competition and ensure that tax dollars, tax credits and tax exemptions are being used appropriately to subsidize care being delivered in non-profit hospitals.”

To address some of these issues, the committee recommends that non-profit hospitals report and post on their websites any ownership or interest in a joint venture, any business venture foundations, operating contracts, partnerships, subsidiary holding companies or interest in a captive insurance company. It also states that non-profit hospitals will post on their websites the total salaries and compensation packages for executive leadership positions.

The committee is also recommending legislation that would increase the cap on the Rural Hospital Tax Credit to $100 million, and require the Department of Community Health to provide and post on their website a list of qualifying hospitals in need of financial support. The tax credit increase is something Lt. Governor-Elect Geoff Duncan recommended in his proposed healthcare plan — stating that this would allow “hospitals to meet the unique health care needs of each community.”

The committee also recommends “supporting the efforts of Governor-Elect Kemp in addressing the safety net cliffs that are harmful to the working poor. These cliffs, or drop offs of benefits, discourage employees from taking raises or promotions, thus hindering the betterment of their lives and that of their families.”

The council also made recommendations concerning economic blights, farm wineries, and regional development authorities. We will look at those in Monday’s edition.

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