Georgia lawmakers finalize bill to reduce certificate of need mandate

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(The Center Square) — Georgia lawmakers have approved reforming the state’s certificate of need mandate, and while the measure stops short of a full repeal, proponents say it’s a step in the right direction.

House Bill 1339 heads to Republican Gov. Brian Kemp for his signature.

“I have never wavered on my commitment to increase quality healthcare access for all Georgians,” Lt. Governor Burt Jones, a Republican, said in a statement. “For decades, CON laws have unfortunately represented a barrier to expanding quality healthcare. Today, we took a step towards reforming CON in Georgia and alleviating the roadblocks Georgians face in their efforts to receive accessible and quality healthcare.”

CONs have been in place since the 1970s, and the Georgia Department of Community Health says CONs “measure and define” the need for a facility, aim to control costs and ensure Georgians have access to healthcare. The measure includes more exemptions from the CON mandate but does not outright eliminate it.

“This is the most significant reform of certificate of need in years. It is a significant first step in the path to one day fully eliminating CON,” Americans for Prosperity-GA State Director Tony West said in a statement. “We look forward to the positive health care developments in Georgia once these reforms are acted upon by healthcare providers across the state.

“We want to thank the members involved in these deliberations who recognized the dire need for reform, specifically, for freestanding birth centers, like the problems experienced by Katie Chubb and the Augusta Birth Center,” West added.

State lawmakers considered removing the mandate last year but didn’t act, and the House and Senate established study committees to explore possible changes to the CON mandate leading up to this year’s session. The Senate study committee recommended lawmakers repeal the mandate, while a House version offered more measured recommendations.

Meanwhile, on Thursday, the Senate Committee on Regulated Industries and Utilities killed House Bill 1077, which could have expanded Medicaid in Georgia. Peach State Republicans have generally opposed an expansion, and Kemp has championed Georgia Pathways to Coverage.

The program offers Medicaid coverage to eligible Georgians ages 19-64 with a household income at or below the federal poverty level and who are otherwise ineligible for “traditional Medicaid.” Recipients must also meet a “qualifying activities threshold” or work requirement.

HB 1077 failed on a 7-7 committee vote.

“This was the closest Democrats came to expanding Medicaid in Georgia,” state Sen. Nabilah Islam Parkes, D-Lawrenceville, said in a post to X, formerly Twitter. “Governor Kemp and the GOP gambled with the healthcare of millions of Georgians by killing the opportunity for Medicaid expansion to progress. Make no mistake, by rejecting Medicaid expansion and rolling back Certificate of Need regulations, they have endangered our rural hospitals and cemented Georgia at the bottom of maternal healthcare.”