- Associated Press - Thursday, March 26, 2015

ATLANTA (AP) - A bill to regulate home care for the elderly devolved Thursday into sarcastic debate in the state Senate when an effort was made to add an amendment that would have given an Illinois-based cancer treatment hospital chain part of what it tried unsuccessfully to get weeks ago.

Senators passed a measure by Republican Sen. Greg Kirk to safeguard the elderly, but only after beating back three amendments, including one that would have allowed Cancer Treatment Centers of America to go back on part of the agreement with lawmakers that got it into the state in 2008.

The amendment sought to reduce the percentage of patients the destination cancer hospital agreed to get from outside Georgia from 65 percent to 51 percent.

Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford and chair of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, immediately jumped to her feet. She - albeit politely - accused the senators who added the amendments of deception.

“These are the danger days” in the Legislature, she said after taking the well. “Let me spell that for you. D-A-N-G-E-R. There’s a lot of shenanigans going on. These bills have been vetted in committee.”

She said the authors of three amendments, Sens. Tommie Williams, R-Lyons, Mike Crane, R-Newnan, and John Albers, R-Roswell, were trying to circumvent the will of the Senate committee that cleared the bill.

“We are talking about home care services,” she said. “I ask you to help those people. We are into the issue of turf wars here.”

Crane’s amendment, the one that mentioned the CTCA hospital in his hometown of Newnan, “is not even germane,” Unterman said.

The logic of the amendments’ authors, she said, was, “We couldn’t please 12 people” in committee. “Let’s see if we can please 56” in the Senate.

Williams, who is on the CTCA board, said “it’s been about seven years” since Georgia’s certificate-of-need law was changed to allow the cancer hospital to open as a “destination” facility. It agreed to have no more than 50 beds and to get 65 percent of its patients from outside Georgia, or otherwise it wouldn’t have won approval.

For-profit CTCA seemed to drop its longshot bid to win concessions on those agreements several weeks ago because it said non-profit hospitals had rallied against it. Then amendments were passed around on Kirk’s bill.

Georgia hospitals opposed CTCA’s entry into the state in 2008 and have expressed strong opposition to any expansion plans. Hospitals, which unlike CTCA operate emergency rooms and eat losses when people can’t pay, contend it is unfair to consider letting the cancer hospital expand.

CTCA said in a statement that it was “unaware” of the amendments but that “we know many legislators are aware of the CON issue and support patient choice.”

Williams said it is not fair to limit the number of Georgians at the Newnan hospital and that CTCA’s facility there has 1,000 or so employees, twice what it said in 2008, and is a major boon to the economy.

Unterman replied that “there are a lot of shenanigans going on.”

The amendments were defeated and the bill passed and the debate ended on a humorous note.

Referring to Unterman’s use of the word “germane,” Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, chairman of the Rules Committee, said: “I just want to know what the Germans have to do with this amendment.”

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