Canton Repository

June 15, 2006

Health care for children in U.S. spotlight

By Paul M. Krawzak
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON - Two families from Canton and New Philadelphia say gratitude and the need to put a human face on the importance of federal aid to children’s hospitals brought them to the Capitol on Wednesday.

Robert and Ashley Belden of Canton are fortunate to have comprehensive health insurance that has covered the estimated $200,000 cost of two open-heart surgeries and related treatment for their 17-month-old son, Bobby, who was born with a congenital heart defect, they say.

But as members of Hope for the Heart, a Canton-based support group for families whose children have congenital heart defects, they know other people who are not so lucky.

“We’re here to make sure that children don’t get cut” in any possible future legislation that would reduce children’s coverage provided by Medicaid, the federal-state health care program for the poor, Robert Belden said.

The Beldens, as well as David and Christa Frantz of New Philadelphia, are among more than two dozen families who participated in an annual visit with lawmakers sponsored by the National Association of Children’s Hospitals.

The organization, which represents children’s hospitals across the nation, has urged Congress to preserve Medicaid coverage of children’s health care and to continue providing millions of dollars a year to support medical training in children’s hospitals.

Eight-year-old Zack Frantz has required extensive specialized care for cerebral palsy, a chronic condition that compromises his ability to walk, talk and eat.

The Frantzes, a two-earner household, have private health insurance. But they also have benefited from Medicaid, even though their income is too high to qualify for the traditional program. Christa Frantz said the family was able to get a Medicaid waiver that paid for a vertical lift in their two-story home and a home-care provider for Zack.

“Our goal is to put a face” on the importance of federal support for children’s hospitals, which provide specialized care unavailable at most hospitals, she said.

Zach has received his care at Akron Children’s Hospital. Frantz, a third-grade teacher at Claymont City Schools, said it is easier for lawmakers to support children’s hospitals when they have “seen those constituents they are helping.”

This week’s visit marked her second time participating in the event.

The Beldens’ youngest son, Bobby, was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a rare defect that they said was tantamount to a death sentence prior to medical advances in the 1980s. The family was referred to Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital in Cleveland, one of a handful of hospitals in the region that performs the specialized surgery needed to address the defect.

Taking a break from trying to persuade Bobby to eat lunch, his mother praised the medical care her son has received at the hospital as “wonderful.”

“Everybody was so supportive and gave us the correct information,” she said.

Her husband expressed wonder at the technological advances that have made it possible for their son, who still faces another surgery, to live a relatively normal life.

“To live in this age, it’s really mind-blowing to me,” said Robert Belden, who is vice president at the Belden Brick Co., founded by his family in 1885. “Until you are exposed to it (medical advances), you really don’t understand what is happening at that level.”

Both families met with the state’s two senators, Republicans Mike DeWine and George Voinovich, and Rep. Ralph Regula, R-Bethlehem Township, during their visit.

The Frantzes also met with their congressman, Rep. Bob Ney, R-Heath, and Rep. Sherrod Brown, D-Avon.

The House Appropriations Committee this week approved legislation containing $300 million for children’s hospital training, an amount hammered out earlier in a subcommittee chaired by Regula, one of the most powerful appropriators in Congress. The amount is an increase over last year.

DeWine has supported children’s health-care spending as a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Brown, who is challenging DeWine in this year’s Senate race, also has backed aid to children’s hospitals as a Democratic leader on another health-related subcommittee.

Heidi L. Gartland, a lobbyist for Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital, praised Regula as a “champion” of children’s health care. She also lauded DeWine and Brown for their leadership on the issue.