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Kingston: Local health centers have 'great purpose'

U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Savannah, made an appearance at a legislative breakfast conducted by Albany Area Primary Health Care on Thursday. Kingston serves as chair of the House Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Appropriations subcommittee.

U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Savannah, made an appearance at a legislative breakfast conducted by Albany Area Primary Health Care on Thursday. Kingston serves as chair of the House Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Appropriations subcommittee.

ALBANY, Ga. -- U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Savannah, joined by Southwest Georgia representatives from the General Assembly, were at a legislative breakfast hosted by Albany Area Primary Health Care on Thursday at the Grand Island Clubhouse.

Kingston, who is running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Moultrie, was joined by officials from Albany Area Primary Health Care at the breakfast, along with state Reps. Carol Fullerton, D-Albany, and Ed Rynders, R-Leesburg.

At the center of the discussion was the Affordable Care Act and the impact regional community health centers might have on the changes associated with it.

While there have been divisions along the aisle regarding health care reform, community health centers have received strong bipartisan support in that they offer opportunities for graduate medical education and save money for the health care system in the long run, the congressman said.

"There are 320,000 people in Georgia who use these facilities each year," Kingston said. "They serve such a great purpose."

Immediately following his remarks at the breakfast, Kingston spoke of the significance of conducting such events like the one held Thursday, as well as how community health centers will factor into the challenges ahead in relation to health care as more people are educated about their purpose.

"(The centers are) part of the puzzle in a positive way as we attack health care reform," he said. "Any time we bring people together in an industry, in this case, health care ... there is a good cross-pollination of ideas to bring the best solution to the health care puzzle being at the highest quality and the lowest cost."

Rynders noted that in Southwest Georgia, roughly two-thirds of the babies born in the region are on Medicaid. With there already being shortage of primary care physicians in the area, he said, there is increased responsibility to educate people on the importance of community health centers.

For those without any other means of seeking care, such centers can be beneficial in terms of health care costs in comparison to immediately going to the emergency room.

"We encourage people without a primary health provider not to use the ER because it will raise health care dollars, but to go to one of these clinics for their health care needs," Rynders said.

This is the first such breakfast Albany Area Primary Health Care has hosted.

"(The legislators were) here to hear about the wonderful things we are doing, and answer any questions we may have," said Clifton Bush, chief operating office for Albany Area Primary Health Care. "We are the largest community health center (network) in the state. We would like to expand and provide more services. We provide care to uninsured and underinsured, but we like to serve anyone in the community.

"We need to add more services here. If we are not here, some patients would not have a chance to get health care...if we were not here, health care costs would probably rise."

Bush hopes there will be other such events in the future.

"Community health centers receive federal funding, and there is a shortage of primary care physicians," he said. "... More of these events would be great to the future ... just to hear about the things going on."

At 15 sites scattered throughout the region, Albany Area Primary Health Care served more than 37,000 patients with roughly 50 providers in 2012. The medical costs for services that same year was $142.42 per visit and $562.80 per person, information provided at the breakfast shows.

Kingston serves as the chair of the House Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Appropriations subcommittee, which oversees funding for federal health care initiatives.

Chambliss will step down from the Senate when his term is completed next year. Kingston has declared he will qualify to run for the Senate post in the 2014 elections.