If one were to try to summarize the 2023 legislative session in Georgia, I think it could come down to this: these people don’t act right.
Lawmakers were presented with a number of opportunities to increase the quality of life for citizens in their state—opportunities that should have found bipartisan support such as school choice programs, or reducing licensing barriers to employment. But on no issue should there have been more common ground than on getting rid of the state’s CON (certificate of need) laws.
CON laws are a government-granted monopoly for giant hospital associations and other healthcare corporations. They make it, quite literally, impossible to add more medical services, beds, or facilities in order to keep healthcare prices artificially high, block competition, and grant special favors to the buddies of politicians who work inside these companies. Under CON laws, if you want to open a new hospital, you have to beg the government for permission while your competitors (the hospital associations), lobby their friends in government against you. Guess who usually wins out?
Democrats claim to be monopoly-busters and spend exorbitant amounts of time hand wringing over companies like Amazon (which is decidedly not a monopoly). But for the most part, true monopolies only exist for long in the wild when the government is involved in the equation blocking competitors. Such is the case with CON laws, yet you’ll rarely if ever see a Democrat working to get rid of them.
Something smells like a rat. Sure would be nice to poke around the ranks of their donation lists.
Some Republicans, to their credit, at least tried to advance this cause in 2023. Sen. Greg Dolezel introduced a bill to fully repeal these laws and was joined by numerous other representatives. Another smaller CON bill would have removed these provisions for the development of hospitals in rural areas of the state. But both failed to move through the legislature, meaning Georgians will be stuck with this oppressive healthcare system for yet another year. And with a supermajority in both chambers, that means Republicans at-large did not get behind this issue either.
A new report out of the Georgia Public Policy Center reveals just how bleak that is for poorer residents in the state.
According to their research, CON regulations are (naturally) associated with less access to healthcare services for all residents. But as is true in most states with CON, these shortages are especially felt by poorer residents and those in rural areas—healthcare deserts if you will—who must pay a lot more money for the services they do have, or spend the money to travel elsewhere.
(There are 30% fewer rural hospitals in states with CON regulations relative to non-CON states, and there are 13% fewer rural ambulatory surgery centers in CON states relative to non-CON states according to the report).
As a whole, Georgians will have fewer hospitals, ambulatory surgery centers, and home health agencies than they would (and should based on population) in a free market.
According to Lt. Gov. Burt Jones, the failure of lawmakers to champion better healthcare for their residents this year comes down to a significant lobbying campaign behind the scenes by the hospital associations and specifically called out the Wellstar Health System in the state.
“Their pretentious belief that they know what’s best for rural Georgia is astounding,” he wrote of the Cobb County-based company that operates many of the state’s existing hospitals.
As long as lawmakers listen to parasitic companies instead of patients, healthcare will continue to get more expensive and less accessible. And as that happens, ill-informed members of society will blame capitalism instead of the true culprit in the healthcare system: the government rigging it for a few connected insiders. This will only lead to further demand for the government to take over healthcare, which as moronic as that is given the fact that’s the entity that broke it in the first place, will be the direct fault of Republicans if they keep failing to stand up for an actual free market.
Georgia Republicans need to get their act together, and quickly.
Hannah Cox is a Fellow at Americans for Prosperity, an organization that works on CON law reform.