Here Are The Significant Changes to Health Care in Georgia That Were Just Signed Into Law

Here Are The Significant Changes to Health Care in Georgia That Were Just Signed Into Law

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Gov. Brian Kemp signed a package of health-care bills Friday, including the most significant reforms in decades to Georgia’s law governing hospital construction and new medical services.

Most of the measures include provisions aimed at increasing access to quality medical care in rural Georgia, an issue gaining urgency as economic developments efforts continue to pay off in job creation in rural communities.

“The need for health care is all parts of our state is only going to increase,” Kemp said during a bill signing ceremony on the campus of the University of Georgia in Athens. “We’re creating problems because we’re growing so much.

Since the General Assembly enacted Georgia’s Certificate of Need (CON) law in 1979, applicants wishing to build a new health-care facility or provide a new medical service have been required to demonstrate the facility or service is needed in that community.

The law’s opponents have long argued the CON process is so time-consuming, cumbersome, and expensive that it delays and sometimes blocks efforts to bring more health-care services to rural counties where they have been in short supply.

“It was prohibiting small communities from improving access to health care,” said Lt. Gov. Burt Jones, who has made CON reform a major priority.

House Bill 1339 exempts proposals to build hospitals in rural counties from having to obtain a CON if they plan to have a full-time emergency room, accept psychiatric and substance-abuse patients, participate in Medicaid, provide indigent care, and offer a training program.

“[It] … will streamline Certificate of Need processes for hospitals, especially in the areas of new equipment, infrastructure improvements, and behavioral health,” said Monty Veazey, president and CEO of the Tifton-based Georgia Alliance of Community Hospitals.

“We hope this bill will be allowed to take effect for several years before being revisited, to see how it affects health care and patient outcomes.”

The legislation also will raise the annual cap on the state’s rural hospital tax credit from $75 million to $100 million and create a state commission to look for additional ways Georgia could improve health-care access.

Other bills in the health-care package Kemp signed Friday will:

  • create a new state income tax credit to physicians, dentists, nurse practitioners, and physicians assistants committed to practicing in rural communities.
  • expand Georgia’s service-cancelable loan program to include dental students committed to practicing in rural communities.
  • provide student-loan repayments to mental-health and substance-abuse professionals.
  • allow non-physicians to serve as heads of local public health boards.
  • expand the availability of residential mental-health treatment programs for children.

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