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Universal Access to Health Care for Teenagers Advocated

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Adolescents should be guaranteed access to health-care services regardless of their ability to pay, a report by a national commission on adolescent health has concluded.

The report, released last week by the National Commission on the Role of the School and the Community in Improving Adolescent Health, recommends that education, health, and social-services agencies work more closely together to provide easily accessible health services for adolescents.

It also urges schools to strengthen policies and curricula that promote healthy lifestyles.

"Unhealthy teenagers--those who are alienated or depressed, who feel that nobody cares, who are distracted by family or emotional problems, who are drinking or using drugs, who are sick or hungry or abused or feel they have no chance to succeed in this world--are unlikely to attain the high levels of education achievement required for success in the 21st century," the report says.

The commission, whose 37 members included leaders in education, health, business, and government, was formed last year by the National Association of State Boards of Education and the American Medical Association.

Its members included the presidents of the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, as well as former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop.

'Fragmentation' of Services

The report, which was funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, laments the "fragmentation" that exists in the health and social-services programs available to youths between the ages of 10 and 18.

To counter this, the panel recommends creating more adolescent-health centers in schools and other settings convenient to teenagers. It also recommends that both schools and health-care providers alter rules and procedures that make it difficult to coordinate services foryoung people.

Existing public and private health-insurance programs should be restructured to provide a universal package of benefits to all teenagers, the report says. Special attention, it suggests, should be paid to the needs of teenagers who come from families that are not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid, but cannot afford private health insurance.

Communities should establish coordinating councils to determine how best to marshal local resources to improve adolescent health, according to the report. It also urges communities to consider creating a "Neighborhood Health Corps"--a group of paid, trained, paraprofessionals who would provide health information to adolescents and their families.

In its recommendations for educators, the report urges schools to work to create healthier learning environments by strengthening health-education programs, establishing rules that create a tobacco- and drug-free campus, and creating a more "personal" learning environment for all students.

They should also consider hiring health coordinators, who would act as a link between students and outside individuals and agencies that can provide needed services, the panel suggests.

Copies of the report, "Code Blue: Uniting for Healthier Youth," will be available in July for $12.50 each from nasbe, Publications Department, 1012 Cameron St., Alexandria, Va. 22314.

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