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By AP

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Updated: Sun, 18 May 2014 01:15:16 EST

RURAL HOSPITALS

As rural hospitals fail, Ga. considers downsizing

MONTEZUMA, Ga. (AP) — As rural hospitals struggle financially, Georgia may let them downsize into expanded emergency rooms.

Alarmed by hospital closures, health officials in Georgia are changing rules to let stressed rural hospitals become expanded emergency rooms that can also handle routine childbirths or outpatient surgery.

Analysts say that rural hospitals are struggling nationally because they typically serve small populations of customers more likely to be older, uninsured or enrolled in government health care programs that do not fully pay their bills. The situation is worse in states like Georgia that are not allowing the poorest of the uninsured to enroll in Medicaid.

State officials say limited services offered by a rural emergency room are better than nothing. Hospital executives question whether the rural emergency rooms will prove viable.

GEORGIA SENATE-DEBATES

Ga. Senate candidates blast front-runner Nunn

ATLANTA (AP) — Three Democratic Senate candidates blasted the party's front-runner ahead of Georgia's upcoming primary vote.

They criticized Michelle Nunn for skipping a debate Saturday and accused her of not standing firmly enough for Democratic Party values as she avoids her lesser known rivals on the campaign trail.

WSB-TV in Atlanta sponsored the debate, which was taped and is scheduled for broadcast at 12:30 p.m.

Nunn is the overwhelming favorite to win Tuesday's primary outright over former state Sen. Steen Miles of DeKalb County; Atlanta psychiatrist Branko Radulovacki; and Todd Robinson, who works for the Columbus Fire and EMS Department.

Seven Republicans are scheduled to debate later today. Their primary is expected to send two candidates to a July 22 runoff. The eventual winner will replace retiring Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss.

GEORGIA GOVERNOR

2 Republican candidates for Ga. governor to debate

ATLANTA (AP) — Two candidates in the Republican primary for governor will soon meet in a debate, though the incumbent is staying away.

Dalton Mayor David Pennington and Schools Superintendent John Barge are set to participate Saturday afternoon in a debate hosted by WSB-TV. It will air Sunday at 12:30 p.m.

Gov. Nathan Deal is skipping the debate to host a campaign fundraiser. Deal's campaign said in a statement that his record speaks for itself.

The winner of the Republican primary will face Democratic candidate Jason Carter in the general election.

SENATE-GEORGIA-SPENDING

Groups spending big to influence Ga.'s Senate race

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — Corporations and special-interest groups are spending more than $6 million to influence the crowded election for the open Senate seat from Georgia.

Federal Election Commission records show that outside groups have spent $4.6 million on advertising either supporting or opposing individual Senate candidates in party primaries set for next Tuesday. Republican congressman Jack Kingston, for example, has gotten a boost from $920,000 worth of ads bought by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

A group called Citizens for a Working America PAC has launched a $1 million ad campaign attempting to paint Kingston as a wasteful Washington spender. The same group has spent $515,000 supporting former Reebok and Dollar General CEO David Perdue.

Groups have given $1.3 million to individual campaigns.

VETERANS-HEALTH CARE

Obama and Congress move to address VA firestorm

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration and Congress are moving quickly to respond to a growing political firestorm over reports of treatment delays and falsified records at veterans hospitals nationwide.

The top official for veterans' health care resigned Friday, and House Republicans scheduled a vote next week on legislation to give Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki greater authority to dismiss or demote senior executives and administrators at the agency and its 152 medical centers.

Reports of long waits for appointments and processing benefit applications have plagued VA for years.

Officials have shortened benefits backlogs, but allegations of preventable deaths that may be linked to delays at the Phoenix VA hospital have triggered an election-year uproar. A former clinic director said up to 40 veterans died while awaiting treatment at the Phoenix hospital.

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