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Conflict-of-Interest bill clears hurdle

Bill targets potential conflicts on health board

Rep. Amy Carter (Special photo)

Rep. Amy Carter (Special photo)

ATLANTA _ A House committee Monday narrowly approved a bill that targets potential conflicts of interest involving Department of Community Health Board members.

Governmental Affairs Committee Chairwoman Amy Carter (R-Valdosta) voted in favor of it, breaking a 4-to-4 tie vote among the other panel members and sending the bill to the House Rules Committee for consideration before it reaches the House floor.

HB 913 would prohibit board membership for anyone having an “ownership interest in an entity or program” licensed or regulated by DCH. The legislation, however, exempts medical professionals such as physicians and dentists.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Trey Kelley (R-Cedartown), said it would still allow medical professionals to serve on the board even if they had an ownership interest in an entity regulated by DCH.

Among people who would be barred from the DCH board under the legislation are people who have an ownership interest in a company that “provides medical staffing services to an entity that is licensed or regulated” by DCH.

At least one current board member appears to be in that category and could possibly lose his eligibility to serve if the bill is passed.

He’s Richard Jackson, the chairman and CEO of Jackson Healthcare in Alpharetta. His company provides hospitals with physicians, nurses and allied health professionals, and hospitals are regulated by the DCH’s Healthcare Facility Regulation division. As a businessman, not a medical professional, he would have no exemption under the bill.

During discussion of the bill Monday, legislators asked Kelley what led him to introduce HB 913. Kelley did not point to any specific problem, but described the bill as a statement in favor of good, open government. He added that it might be a good idea to expand the conflict-of-interest provision to other state boards.

All nine members of the DCH board are appointed by the governor, and Gov. Nathan Deal appointed Jackson in 2012.

Jackson has referred questions on HB 913 to DCH Commissioner Clyde Reese. No one from Community Health testified at Monday’s committee hearing.

A spokeswoman for Community Health told GHN that the agency does not comment on pending legislation.

Rep. Bruce Williamson (R-Monroe) told GHN he voted against the bill because he was hesitant to limit otherwise qualified people from serving on the board and because board members are required to fill out financial disclosure reports. Williamson suggested that the impact of the legislation should be examined more closely.

Jackson has been active in backing the proposed Patients’ Compensation Act (SB 141). It would replace the current medical malpractice system in Georgia with one that somewhat resembles workers’ compensation. The bill has powerful opponents, including the Georgia Trial Lawyers Association and the Medical Association of Georgia.

The Gainesville Times reported that Jackson was linked to a direct-mail pamphlet sent to Hall County residents, praising Sen. Butch Miller (R-Gainesville) for his support of the medical malpractice legislation.

Miller told the newspaper he did not know the “source or the motive” for the mailer and noted that SB 141 appears to be a “moot point” in the 2014 legislative session, with little chance of passage.

Charles Craig is a reporter with Georgia Health News