(The Center Square) — When Katie Chubb wanted to open a new birthing center in Augusta, she wasn’t surprised the local community would support the new service.
Rather, it was who opposed it: three local hospitals.
To open her center, she needed a so-called certificate of need, state approval that confirms the service’s need. According to the Pacific Legal Foundation, which is representing Chubb, Georgia’s CON regulations stipulate that new childbirth services must have transfer agreements with local hospitals, but none of the three hospitals would sign one.
“The only reason we were denied was because of the transfer agreement,” Chubb, founding director of the Augusta Birth Center, said.
“Federal law states that these hospitals have to accept my transfer,” she added. “So, the transfer agreement was exploited at a local level to prevent us from opening.”
Chubb spoke at an event sponsored by Americans for Prosperity-Georgia. The group has launched a six-figure campaign to encourage lawmakers to repeal the CON requirement.
“If you want to see CON reform or CON repeal, the answer is very easy,” state Sen. Greg Dolezal, R-Cumming, said during the event. “We want to see less government in healthcare, we want to see more free market solutions, we believe the competition ultimately drives prices down, we believe the people should have choice, and we fundamentally oppose this notion that government will sanction one entity to do business in a certain mile radius [and] give that organization the ability to prevent anybody else from competing with them.”
CONs emerged at the state level after a 1974 law allowed the federal government to withhold funds from states that did not establish a program. In the 1980s, Congress repealed the federal incentives for CONs.
In 2021, the Mercatus Center at George Mason University found that repealing the CON requirement would increase the number of hospitals in the state from 176 to 250. It would also increase the number of rural hospitals in the state from 61 to 88.
But the path to repeal won’t be an easy one. The Georgia Alliance of Community Hospitals has voiced opposition to repealing the state’s CON mandate.
“We have made substantial changes since the original act was passed in ’79,” Monty Veazey, president and CEO of the GACH, told The Center Square in a previous interview. “We do not support repeal of CON, and we do not support any changing of CON in a substantial manner.”
While AFP-GA may encounter pushback from state hospital organizations, it has high-profile support from U.S. Rep. Rich McCormick, R-Georgia, an emergency room doctor before he entered Congress.
“So, the first thing is, get government out of healthcare,” McCormick said during the panel. “Have them allow us to have a competitive marketplace where we see what works.”
“Every time the government gets involved in solving something, it creates a new problem,” McCormick said. “Let’s be honest about this. What does the government manage well?”
By T.A. DeFeo | The Center Square contributor