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Doctors to Press for Health Insurance for All Children

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Chicago--The American Academy of Pediatrics announced here last week that it is launching a major effort to lobby federal lawmakers for universal health insurance for children through age 21 and for pregnant women..

In addition, the academy announced at its national convention that it will work to eliminate barriers in the health-care system that prevent families from seeking the medical help they need.

Dr. Donald Schiff, the academy's president, said in a plenary address that the nation has pursued a "short-sighted" health-care policy for children.

"We need a comprehensive child health policy that will identify children as a top priority in our country," he said.

The academy estimates that as many as 16 million children under age 21 have no health insurance, and that millions more have inadequate coverage. It also asserts that uninsured children are 20 percent more likely to be in poor health than are insured children.

Dr. Schiff said the academy is4pushing for legislation at both the federal and state levels to improve insurance coverage for children.

He proposed that children and pregnant women who are not covered by insurance policies through their employers be covered by a private insurance plan administered by the states. Federal Medicaid money would be channeled into such a fund, he said.

In testimony last month before the U.S. Bipartisan Commission on Comprehensive Health Care, which is made up of members of the Congress, the academy proposed that the state insurance fund be financed, in part, by a 3.5 percent tax on employers who do not provide insurance coverage to dependents.

The commission is scheduled to release its recommendations on providing coverage to the uninsured by March.

Dr. Schiff also said last week that the academy, along with U.S. Office of Maternal and Child Health, has awarded a total of $500,000 to 10 community-based pediatric programs working to develop new approaches for delivering cost-effective care.

In a related development, the8National Association of Children's Hospitals and Related Institutions has concluded in a new study that the federal Medicaid program fails to cover nearly half of all poor children.

It recommends that the program cover all children and pregnant women who come from families that earn up to 185 percent of the federal poverty level.

Campaign for Bicycle Helmets

The academy also announced at it Chicago meeting that it has embarked on a campaign to encourage children to wear helmets when riding their bicycles. Children who wear helmets can cut their risk of accident-induced head and brain injury by more than 80 percent, the academy said.

Nearly 50,000 cyclists--adults and children--suffer serious head injuries each year, and more than 1,000 die from bicycle-related injuries, according to the academy.

The pediatrics group has developed educational materials and posters for the campaign, and a program to distribute discount coupons for helmet purchases has been launched.

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