Current Health System ‘Killing Our Children,’ HHS Chief Says

From a Times Staff Writer

Using some of the starkest language yet by any member of the Clinton Administration, Health and Human Services Secretary Donna E. Shalala said Friday that the nation’s health care system must be revamped because it is not only “destroying” the economy but also “killing our children.”

“We actually don’t have a choice (but to enact comprehensive reform),” Shalala said after sitting through a day of public hearings on the shortcomings of the current system, which consumes $800 billion a year but fails to provide adequate medical coverage for millions of Americans.

Listening to a procession of citizens as well as health care providers, Shalala was joined by Tipper Gore, wife of Vice President Al Gore, during the fourth and final session in a series called “Conversations on Health.” The hearings are sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a private, philanthropic health promotion agency.

Shalala, a member of the presidential Task Force on National Health Care Reform that is drafting an overhaul agenda, made her comments in her closing statement.


Asked later to elaborate, she said she had in mind the high infant mortality rate in the United States, which is widely blamed on a lack of prenatal care for pregnant women and newborns.

“When we talk about prevention, we’re talking very much about the way people start off in life,” Shalala said.

“So it’s not just the economy. It’s not just the impact of whether we’re going to have jobs in this country,” she continued. “From our point of view, it has a great deal to do with the kind of society we are, how we define ourselves and whether we care very much about how people grow up in this country.”