New Pilot Program Will Increase the Number of Disease Screens for Newborns
State health officials are set to launch an "ambitious" pilot program that will "greatly expand" the number of diseases for which newborns are screened, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Currently, the state tests newborns for four genetic diseases using a single drop of blood drawn after birth, but new technology will allow physicians to test for between 20 and 30 diseases from the same amount of blood. State health officials say the new screening, which will begin Jan. 7, will help identify the approximately one in 5,000 children born with a genetic disorder, allowing the conditions to be treated earlier. "We think this [program] will prevent needless disabilities and suffering," Nicole Meckley, a lobbyist for California's March of Dimes, said. Officials expect an additional 40 to 60 children to be diagnosed through the screening expansion. Program leaders will publish a report in 12 to 18 months to "see how the program is working."
While supporters of the pilot program hope that it will be adopted permanently, such an expansion would have financial implications for the state at a time when lawmakers are facing a budget deficit. Of the approximately 535,000 children born each year, about 38% are covered by Medi-Cal. The screening expansion could add $2 million to the $4.2 million the state currently pays each year to screen newborns eligible for Medi-Cal, George Cunningham, director of the state Department of Health's Genetic Diseases Branch, said. Cunningham added that the additional funding may depend on how many new diseases would be detected by the expanded tests. State lawmakers will have to decide by next July whether to include up to $2 million per year needed to continue the expanded screening, the Chronicle reports (Abate, San Francisco Chronicle, 12/10).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.