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Shalala Extols Virtues of Preventive Health Care for Young

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WASHINGTON--In a hearing that saw her fielding some sharp questions from members of the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee, Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna E. Shalala last week offered a few additional details about some children's services emphasized in the Clinton Administration's health-care-reform proposal.

The hearing focused on disease prevention, which Ms. Shalala said was central to the Administration's plan.

"The point is to start early'' and encourage children to adopt good health habits, Ms. Shalala said. She also told panel members who questioned the financial viability of the plan that preventive medicine can cut costs.

Senators exhibited irritation throughout the hearing at not yet having a more detailed plan to work from. Ms. Shalala, who has thus far borne much of the brunt of Congressional dissatisfaction, said the Administration would be able to deliver a final draft in two weeks.

Ms. Shalala was able to give a few details that had not been disclosed before. For example, she said blood tests to detect lead in children would be covered under well-baby care.

Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, D-Conn., citing concerns expressed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, said the number of visits to the doctor the plan would cover for children and adolescents was too few. Ms. Shalala said the Administration is "continuing to look at'' coverage for high-risk groups like adolescents.

Senator Dodd also asked how the Administration plans to achieve universal immunization.

'Report Card' Incentive

As an incentive to promote immunization, Secretary Shalala said, each health plan's "report card'' would include the percentage of preschool children it has immunized.

She also said that initiatives to inform the public about immunization would continue.

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, notedthat a major barrier to universal immunization is that clinics "can't get the people in.'' He suggested incentives for parents--low-income single mothers in particular--to get their children immunized.

In addition, Senator Harkin called reforming the school-lunch program "vital'' to health-care reform, noting that lunches now contain "too darn much fat and too much sodium.'' He also suggested that the plan promote better physical education in schools.

Ms. Shalala also testified last week before the House Education and Labor Committee.

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