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Child and Maternal Health A Priority in Debate on Health Care

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Continuing its hearings on the Clinton Administration's health-care plan, the Senate Labor and Human Resources committee heard testimony last week on the subject of maternal and child health, punctuated by the whimpers and cries of several babies.

Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, D-Conn., who chaired the hearing, promised that child and maternal health would be his priority in the debate on health-care reform.

"This is what I'm going to focus on,'' he said.

Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, the prominent pediatrician, and others emphasized the importance of encouraging young doctors to go into general practice.

"We need to start with training doctors differently,'' he said, adding that health-care providers must "talk in the language and belief systems of those who we are not reaching today'' and treat low-income patients with respect.

"If we really empower people,'' Dr. Brazelton said, "we can really get them to take some responsibility for their own health care.'' He also endorsed "front-ended early intervention'' for at-risk infants.

Lynn Morrison, a self-described working-class mother from Georgia, spoke of her own experience in trying to find affordable care during her recent pregnancy.

As Dr. Brazelton held her baby, Ms. Morrison made an emotional plea, begging the senators not to let other women experience the same frustration and hardship she had.

Joseph Medlin, the captain of the basketball team at Far Rockaway (N.Y.) High School, told the senators about his school's clinic.

Support for School Clinics

"Everybody's comfortable using the clinic,'' Mr. Medlin said. "We even have students from other schools coming to the clinic.''

Although Sen. Nancy Landon Kassebaum, R-Kan., said she worried that students often did not use school clinics because there was a stigma attached to them, Dr. Monica R. Meyer, the director of child and maternal health for New York State, said that had not been her experience.

"School-based clinics are real sources of universal coverage,'' she said, adding that a guarantee of universal health coverage would not reduce the need for such clinics.

"Having a health-security card isn't what's going to make people comfortable ... to go in and get their needs taken care of,'' she said.

"We're going to do what we can to get more support for school-based clinics,'' said Senator Dodd, who also pledged his support for increasing the number of clinical visits the health-care plan would cover for children and adolescents between the ages of 6 and 19.

"If I don't get anything else changed,'' Mr. Dodd said, "I'm going to get that changed.''

Eva Skubel, the coordinator of the Health Financing Advocacy project, told the senators that long-term-care benefits were essential to insure that children with special needs are fully covered.

"Those services mean the difference between having our children at home with us or having to go to an institute for their care,'' she said.

At the hearing, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a report card on the various health-care-reform plans now being considered in Congress, focusing on their treatment of children's issues. President Clinton's plan received the highest marks, followed by the "single payer'' plan of Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn.

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