ATLANTA — Cancer Treatment Centers of America said Tuesday that it is dropping its effort to get a bill through this year’s General Assembly to expand its Newnan hospital’s capacity – and allow it to treat more Georgians.
But CTCA indicated that the fight is not over.
The hospital chain had been supporting House Bill 482, sponsored by state Rep. Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs), which would have eliminated a requirement that 65 percent of the cancer hospital’s patients come from out of state. That rule was imposed by the Legislature in 2008 when it allowed CTCA to build the facility.
Willard’s legislation, which met ferocious opposition, also would have also allowed the cancer hospital to expand its bed capacity.
The state’s hospital industry was adamantly against the bill. Industry officials questioned whether CTCA had even adhered to the out-of-state requirement, and they also questioned the Newnan facility’s level of charity care.
CTCA had called the critics unfair and self-interested, and it repeated that in its Tuesday statement on the legislation.
“It is unfortunate that other hospitals would use their immense political influence to fight Georgia cancer patients and their right to choose where they receive treatment,” the CTA statement said. “Cancer Treatment Centers of America believes patients have a fundamental right to as many health care options as possible, especially when fighting an insidious disease such as cancer.”
The statement also indicated that CTCA is not permanently backing away from the legislative effort.
“We . . . intend to work very hard between now and next year’s legislative session to educate people about who we are and why patient choice remains critical to all Georgians,” the statement added.
The announcement by CTCA, and Willard’s withdrawal of the bill, followed the sudden cancellation of a hearing on the measure Tuesday afternoon. The legislation faced an uphill fight toward passage, with a legislative deadline that it pass at least one chamber of the General Assembly by this Friday.
CTCA executive David Kent told Georgia Health News recently that due to the 65 percent restriction, the CTCA facility has been forced not to admit some Georgians seeking care.
“We started turning Georgia patients away last fall,” Kent said.
He said the hospitals’ opposition to the bill is more about protecting their competitive advantage gained through the state’s certificate of need (CON) program.
CON is the regulatory apparatus in Georgia, as in some other states, that governs the construction and expansion of health care facilities.
Under Georgia law, hospitals are required to obtain CON licenses for major construction projects and service expansions. CON aims at controlling health care costs, but many states have repealed such laws.
Jimmy Lewis of HomeTown Health, an association of rural hospitals, said House Bill 482 could open up the whole regulatory process to a sweeping overhaul.
“CON protects the health of smaller rural hospitals and protects counties that support them financially,” Lewis said.
The legislation to give the cancer hospital a freer rein, he added, could destabilize a hospital industry that’s already suffering financially.
A for-profit company known for its sophisticated marketing, CTCA also operates cancer hospitals in Philadelphia, Tulsa, Phoenix and Chicago. Its Newnan facility opened in 2012.
CTCA has been politically active with financial contributions. The AJC reported last year that since 2006, the company has contributed about $340,000.
The Georgia Hospital Association said it had doubts about whether Cancer Treatment Centers of America had met the 65 percent requirement.
“CTCA has failed to provide [the state Department of Community Health] its charity care policy as required,” the hospital association said in a recent statement. “CTCA has not complied with existing law, and should not be granted even more special consideration by further weakening Georgia’s certificate of need program”