Many Newborns Not Getting Vital Tests

Two-thirds of babies born in the United States are going without blood tests for diseases that can kill them or leave them severely mentally retarded. That is because only 21 states, mostly smaller ones, mandate the 9 newborn screening tests that can detect the diseases in time.

This sad state of affairs continues despite the passage in 2000 of the Children's Health Act, which earmarked federal money to help states pay for what are considered vital tests.

Comment: This is the type of health matter that needs to be mandated on a national level rather than wait for 50 state legislatures to get around to passing the same law, if they ever do. Why should a child born in one state rather than another have to suffer a lifelong handicap or die? We have a national standard of care. We should have national health standards.

Barbara K. Hecht, Ph.D.
Frederick Hecht, M.D.
Medical Editors, MedicineNet.com

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Only 21 States Offer Core Newborn Screening Tests; Most Still Fall Short of March of Dimes Recommendations

Some Screening Programs Sit Idle for Lack of Funding, Threatening the Health of Babies

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y., JUNE 30, 2004 - Seventy percent of babies in the U.S. are born in states that still fail to carry out the nine core newborn screening tests recommended by the March of Dimes, according to the non-profit's 2004 state-by-state report card on newborn screening.

The March of Dimes is the first national health organization to recommend that every baby born in the U.S. receive, at a minimum, screening for the same core group of nine metabolic disorders as well as hearing deficiency. All of these metabolic disorders can be successfully managed or treated to prevent severe consequences, if diagnosed early.

Few parents realize that the extent of newborn testing depends entirely on the state in which their baby is born. For infants affected with these nine metabolic disorders, the tests can mean the difference between life and death, the March of Dimes says. The March of Dimes encourages states to add more screening tests as resources and capabilities allow.

"The number of screened disorders continues to vary greatly by state. Here we have a simple and inexpensive solution to a potentially devastating problem, and it's time for all states to make newborn screening a top priority," says Dr. Jennifer L. Howse, president of the March of Dimes and a member of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary's Advisory Committee on Heritable Disorders and Genetic Diseases in Newborns and Children.

"Our state chapters and their partners have been working closely with governors, state legislators, and health departments to increase access to these important tests," Dr. Howse says. "I'm encouraged to report today that since this time last year, the number of states that test for the nine core metabolic disorders has risen from nine to 21."

Currently, the following 21 states screen for the March of Dimes-recommended list of metabolic disorders: Alaska, Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin. These states account for about 1.3 million of the approximately 4 million live births each year in the U.S. "This means that only about 32 percent of babies are born in states that carry out the recommended screening," Dr. Howse says.

Fourteen states, plus the District of Columbia, currently offer tests for six to eight of the conditions on the March of Dimes list. Another fifteen states, plus Puerto Rico, currently offer tests for only five or fewer conditions.

Nine states (Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Wyoming) have authorized expanded newborn screening, but testing currently is not being implemented.

Another seven -- Louisiana, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, South Dakota -- are testing only selected populations within the state or are running pilot programs that do not include all babies.

Although most states have approved screening for hearing deficiency, seven states currently do not ensure that at least 90 percent of babies actually get tested, the March of Dimes says.