Expanded Genetic Screening for Newborns Begins Monday
All infants born in California hospitals will receive newborn screening for 75 genetic disorders beginning Monday, when a law to expand the state screening program goes into effect, state health officials and screening advocates said at a Tuesday press conference announcing the program, the Sacramento Bee reports (Griffith, Sacramento Bee, 7/27).
Currently, testing is required for fewer than 40 diseases, the Los Angeles Times reports (Thermos, Los Angeles Times, 7/27). The law passed last year expands statewide screening that was first offered under a pilot program launched in 2002 (Sacramento Bee, 7/27).
Identification of genetic disorders at birth and early intervention can help prevent mental retardation, brain damage and other lifelong problems, according to the Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles Times, 7/27). Many genetic disorders are treatable, and children can live healthy lives with early detection, the Contra Costa Times reports (Kleffman, Contra Costa Times, 7/27).
The expanded screening is expected to identify serious genetic disorders in as many as 100 infants annually. Under the 18-month pilot program, disorders were detected in 52 infants born at participating hospitals statewide (Sacramento Bee, 7/27). Since early May, 15 infants have been identified with genetic disorders that might have otherwise gone undetected.
Department of Health Services spokesperson Ken August said those children could be "either dead or very ill" if the disorders had not been detected at birth (Los Angeles Times, 7/27).
The screening will cost $78 and will be covered by Medi-Cal. Private insurers are expected to cover the screening as well, state health officials said (Sacramento Bee, 7/27). The cost of the current screening regiment is $60 dollars (Contra Costa Times, 7/27).
The annual budget for the screening program is about $80 million, which includes newborn and prenatal testing, laboratory work and follow-up, according to Catherine Camacho, deputy director of DHS' Primary Care and Family Health Division.
Health and Human Services Agency Secretary Kim Belshe said the program is cost effective, noting that lifetime care for a person with mental retardation can cost more than $1 million.
Out of the 200 positive tests expected annually, an estimated 90% will be false positives, according to the Bee (Sacramento Bee, 7/27).
DHS Director Sandra Shewry said the benefits of finding true positives outweigh the emotional impact on parents caused by false positives (Contra Costa Times, 7/27).
Dani Montague, director of the California chapter of March of Dimes, said an analysis released by the organization earlier this month identified California as one of the worst states in term of genetic screening rates. The expanded testing makes the state "one of the best," Montague said (Sacramento Bee, 7/27).