Newborn Test Takes Baby Step Forward

by David Gorn

TOPIC ALERT:

A bill to require hospitals to screen all newborns for congenital heart conditions recently was presented to the Assembly Committee on Appropriations -- where it was expected to get a rough reception. Instead, AB 1731 (Marty Block, D-San Diego) was moved to the suspense file, where it will await next month's budget discussions.

"The test … only costs $3 per baby," Block said at last week's hearing. "If undetected, congenital heart disease can require subsequent emergency room visits, and additional medical costs are much higher than the treatment cost if the baby's condition had been caught earlier."

Block was addressing fiscal concerns first raised in the Assembly Committee on Health. In addition to California hospitals' cost of administering the screening test to newborns, the Assembly analysis estimates additional cost to the Department of Health Care Services to launch and run the program -- up to $1 million annually, as well as start-up costs of $300,000.

The legislative analysis of AB 1731 also saw potential cost savings of $350,000 a year by avoiding expensive emergency room visits and operations to treat congenital heart disease. Block said the fiscal impact boils down to an estimate made by Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose, which has this screening program in place.

"Estimates from Santa Clara Valley Medical Center show that the cost of one case [of treating preventable congenital heart disease] covers the cost of screening for 10,000 newborns," Block said.

Assembly member Diane Harkey (R-Dana Point) said she wanted to support the bill, but could not.

"My problem is, health care costs are rising," Harkey said. "I understand the need, but I cannot [support it] until I understand where the state is going with its mandates -- and they are multiple -- before we add another layer."

Block said he understood the cost concern, but that the expense would be offset by two different kinds of savings.

"Not only will this save lives and save families from devastation," Block said, "but it will save the state huge dollars in medical care in the long run. And even in the short run."

The bill was moved to the suspense file, where it will be taken up when budget talks start.


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