Health reform effort faces potentially formidable opposition at state Capitol

By David Pendered

The legislative effort to “revolutionize” the not-for-profit health care delivery system in Georgia is set to run head-on into entrenched hospital interests that have crowed victory in defending a law that dates to 1979 and protects the status quo.

piedmont hospital, rendering

With 12 facilities listed as members of the Georgia Alliance of Community Hospitals, Piedmont Healthcare has the largest presence in GACH. Piedmont is adding 870,305 square feet of new construction and 45,583 square feet of renovation at its flagship facility in Atlanta. Credit: aiaga.org

A cornerstone of legislation filed last week is the proposed elimination of the centerpiece of the laws regarding Georgia’s health care delivery system. The companion bills are Senate Bill 74 and House Bill 198.

This centerpiece is a certificate issued by the state. This certificate affirms the state has approved a need that’s been stated to justify construction of a new hospital, the purchase of major medical equipment, or the renovation of an existing facility. Thus the name – certificate of need.

The Georgia Alliance of Community Hospitals is a leading defender of the existing certificate of need program. The alliance may have support from lobbyists hired by individual hospitals and medical centers in defending the status quo. The alliance’s records show it pays great attention, and resources, to the certificate of need program.

The alliance, based in Tifton, is not to be taken lightly – it represents a consortium of 88 hospitals or medical centers in all regions of the state, according to a report on its website.

A central mission of the alliance appears to have become the blocking of proposed changes to the certificate of need law. The opposition is highlighted in the president/CEO message published in the latest and recent annual reports:

  • 2017 – “We faced what has become an annual assault on Georgia’s Certificate of Need, laws [sic] were once again successful in our efforts to stop that legislation.”
  • 2016 – “A serious push to repeal the Certificate of Need law went nowhere last year, but, another attempt this year is likely. We must be prepared to face issues that continually come up – Certificate of Need and renewal of the provider fee.”
  • 2015 – “As we speculated last year, 2015 has been the year of Certificate of Need. We had a glimmer of hope that it wouldn’t be a significant battle in the short- term when the Legislature showed little interest this past session. However, multispecialty surgery centers continue wanting to enter the market, only to provide the services that are profitable….”

The alliance paid $774,962 for the total compensation package for Monty Veazey, its president/CEO, and state lobbyist since at least 2006. This is according to the latest tax return for the not-for-profit organization that’s posted by guidestar.org, representing the tax year that ended Sept. 30, 2016, and Veazey’s Georgia lobbyist report.

Veazey treats lawmakers to meals and trips to resorts on behalf of the alliance. Recent events include:

  • On Jan. 28, Veazey treated 19 House members to a meal at an unspecified location to talk about the unspecified issue of “healthcare.” Each meal cost $20, according to the pertinent Lobbyist Report Form.

    Monty Veazey

    GACH President/CEO Monty Veazey speaks at one of the organization’s events. Credit: gach.org

  • Veazey met separately with two senators in December 2018 to discuss the unspecified issue of “healthcare.” On Dec. 3, he spent $13.73 for the senator’s meal and,on Dec. 5, paid $13.48 for another senator’s meal, according to a Lobbyist Disclosure Form.
  • At a cost of $663 per person, Veazey hosted two House members and one senator at what the disclosure describes as, “participation in education panel.” The Oct. 11, 2018 date coincides with the alliance’s annual meeting, conducted Oct. 10 through Oct. 12 at The Ritz-Carlton Reynolds, Lake Oconee, according to a report published by the Greene County Chamber of Commerce.

The alliance doesn’t seem to have trouble finding money for its lobbying effort.

The total revenue cited in the 2016 tax return was $2.5 million. Of this sum, $1.7 million came from membership dues, nearly $540,000 from special assessments and $283,000 from meeting sponsorships.

The challenge of defending the state’s certificate of need program and other issues of concern to the alliance does not appear to consume all of Veazey’s time at the Capitol.

In addition to the alliance, Veazey has five other significant clients this legislative session. Each pays $10,000 a year or more; the state form doesn’t disclose any other payment level. A Florida company pays less than $10,000, the report shows.

Veazey’s five larger clients this year include MillerCoors LLC; Atlanta Motor Speedway; and Georgia Association of Nurse Anesthetists, according to Veazey’s lobbyist disclosure list.

 

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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