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Editorial - Keep playing field balanced

Of all the issues on the minds of Americans these days, the nearest and dearest is probably health care.

Health care is unique in that it is an issue that drills down all the way from national policy consideration to the medicine cabinet in your bathroom. And there's little chance that it will ever lose importance. On Monday, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services reported that the cost of health care is soaring at triple the rate of inflation, about 6.7 percent per year.

There's no sign that the escalation, fueled by higher prices for services and ever increasing demand, will slow down, especially when baby boomers start hitting the Medicare system in 2011. In 10 years, the government projects, health care spending will double to $4 trillion a year. When it reaches that point, $1 out of every $5 spent in the United States will be spent on health care.

In Georgia, one of the ways the state has attempted to control medical costs is through its certificate of need program, better known by the acronym CON. Under Georgia regulations, when a medical provider wants to offer a service in the state, an application is made and an assessment is conducted to determine whether there is a need for the service. If the Department of Community Health determines there is a need, the CON is issued. If DCH determines the demand for the service is already being met, the certificate is denied.

Not everyone in Georgia favors the certificate of need concept. Certainly it leads to battles at times between competing medical facilities.

There may be valid criticism of the CON process as it now functions in Georgia, but that is an argument for another day. The certificate of need law is what Georgia health providers operate under. They all have to play by the same set of rules.

That is, they all play by the same rules if the House rejects legislation passed Wednesday by the Senate that would carve a special exception for an Illinois-based medical group that wants to expand into Atlanta.

In a 31-23 vote, the Senate circumvented the state's CON process by creating a new category of service that would be exempt from it - destination cancer hospital. Among the requirements of being a destination cancer hospital would be a facility of 50 beds or fewer and at least 65 percent of the patients served would have to come from outside of Georgia. Under the Senate bill, the hospital would have to dedicate at least 3 percent of its revenues to indigent care.

This reason for the bill is clear - someone is doing someone a political favor. It is special-interest legislation tailored specifically to allow Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) to build a specialty hospital just south of Atlanta. Just as clear is this: If the need for a destination cancer hospital in Atlanta could be justified under CON, legislators would not have to concoct an exemption for it.

It can only be hoped that the House will reject this flawed legislation. There's little doubt that if it does reach the desk of Gov. Sonny Perdue, who tried to get a CTCA proposal through the Legislature last year, he will sign the bill.

If the Legislature wants to assess the certificate of need law and then amend it or do away with it altogether, that is one thing. But to cavalierly ignore an inconvenient state law in order to give a business an unfair advantage is simply wrong.