Phoebe North Hospital located on Palmyra Road.
ATLANTA — The bill that would have changed Georgia law to reflect a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision and make it easier for hospital authorities across the state to buy and sell hospitals without antitrust scrutiny from the federal government will have to sit idle until next January before it will have a shot at becoming law.
House Bill 230, which was sponsored by Reps. Jay Powell, R-Camilla, Mickey Channell, R-Greensboro, Jason Shaw, R-Lakeland, Richard Smith, R-Columbus, Ed Rynders, R-Leesburg, and Stacey Abrams, D-Atlanta, failed to make it out of committee and onto the floor for a vote before the end of crossover day Thursday, meaning it will have have to remain in the hopper until next January when the Georgia House reconvenes for the second half of its two-year term, officials in the Georgia House of Representatives Clerk Office said Friday.
If passed, HB 230 would amend Georgia law so that “hospital authorities created thereunder are acting pursuant to state policy; to articulate clearly and express affirmatively, and to clarify that it is and has been, the policy of the State of Georgia that such hospital authorities in the exercise of the powers specifically granted to them in Article 4 of Chapter 7 of Title 31 shall be immune from antitrust liability to the same degree and extent as enjoyed by the State of Georgia.”
Phoebe officials, who said the bill could be “helpful,” in their ongoing legal fight with the Federal Trade Commission over the purchase of former cross-town rival Palmyra Medical Center, issued a statement Friday morning.
“House Bill 230 was a statewide bill that impacted all authority hospitals, and legislators saw a need a (sic) for this legislation. Certainly from our perspective, clarity around this issue would have been helpful, but in absence of that we are continuing to follow the FTC processes,” a statement released by Phoebe Friday stated.
The bill was offered Feb. 6.
On Feb. 19, the U.S. Supreme Court rendered its opinion of a legal challenge brought by the Federal Trade Commission against the Hospital Authority of Dougherty County, Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital and Hospital Corporation of America attempting to block the authority’s $195 million purchase on behalf of Phoebe of the hospital formerly known as Palmyra Medical Center. The FTC contended that the purchase would create a monopoly on healthcare in Southwest Georgia and could lead to higher healthcare prices for consumers.
The authority and Phoebe countered, saying that, as an entity of the state, the authority was exempt from antitrust scrutiny.
In the opinion written by Justice Sonya Sotomayor, all nine justices concur that Georgia law isn’t “clearly articulated” or affirmatively expressed when it comes to whether hospital authorities can conduct business free of the federal government’s antitrust provisions.
“Under this Court’s state-action immunity doctrine, when a local governmental entity acts pursuant to a clearly articulated and affirmatively expressed state policy to displace competition, it is exempt from scrutiny under the federal antitrust laws,” the opinion begins. “In this case, we must decide whether a Georgia law that creates special-purpose public entities called hospital authorities and gives those entities general corporate powers, including the power to acquire hospitals, clearly articulates and affirmatively expresses a state policy to permit acquisitions that substantially lessen competition.
“Because Georgia’s grant of general corporate powers to hospital authorities does not include permission to use those powers anticompetitively, we hold that the clear-articulation test is not satisfied and state action immunity does not apply.”
The supreme court’s decision throws the matter back down to the lower courts to hash out what will become of Phoebe North.