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Senate Passes Bill to Test Newborns for Heart Defects

Nisi, Senator Micciche's niece.

Nisi, Senator Micciche's niece.

PHOTO: Courtesy of Senator Micciche's Office

Senate Bill 87 requires screening of babies for congenital heart disease before leaving the hospital

JUNEAU-Today, the Alaska State Senate passed a bill requiring all newborns to be screened for congenital heart disease at their birth hospital or birthing facility.  Senate Bill 87, sponsored by Senator Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, requires larger hospitals to test newborns with pulse oximetry beginning in January 2014.

“Every week Alaska babies are discharged from hospitals with undetected heart problems.  Approximately 115 Alaska babies will be born this year with congenital heart defects — the number one killer of infants with birth defects,” said Senator Micciche.  “The screening procedure is less than the cost of a diaper change in hospital nursery and is conducted bedside by a trained nurse.  There is no reason we shouldn’t take this simple step that can save so many young Alaskan lives.”

Pulse oximetry is a non-invasive, painless test which measures the amount of oxygen in the baby’s blood, as well as the pulse rate.  It can be administered with equipment already regularly used by hospitals, clinics, and even in-home health care providers on adults and older children.  Pulse oximetry has also been successful in detecting other life-threatening conditions such as pneumonia. 

Birthing centers, smaller hospitals, midwives and other birth attendants with fewer than 20 births per year will have until January 2016 to acquire the necessary equipment estimated to cost between $500 and $1,000.  For smaller birthing centers unable to afford the equipment, newborns can be given the test when they are taken to a better-equipped facility for hearing testing already required by Alaska law.  It is also important to Senator Micciche that parents retain the right to opt out of the testing.

“My intention with this legislation is to first and foremost, ensure the health of as many Alaskan babies as possible,” said Senator Micciche.  “Second, I want to provide for a system to implement the testing process in a smooth manner that does not cause hardship for our state’s medical providers.  Senate Bill 87 satisfies both key objectives”

In September of 2011, the US Secretary of Health and Human Services recommended that all newborns be screened for critical congenital heart disease (CCHD) prior to being discharged from the birth hospital. That recommendation is endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, March of Dimes, American Heart Association and the Newborn Coalition.  13 states already have adopted testing laws, 20 others are currently considering similar legislation and many larger medical facilities in Alaska have begun testing newborns. 

“If we were to give title to bills in Alaska, SB87 would be titled ‘The Nisi Act’.  My beautiful niece, who we call Nisi, was lucky to be born in Japan last November,” said Senator Micciche.  “Nisi was born with congenital heart disease and fortunate to be born in a country where hospitals have adopted the standard practice of testing to detect heart defects in newborns.   Were it not for the testing and the subsequent early treatment she received, I could be telling you an entirely different story today.”

Representative Max Gruenberg, D-Anchorage, is the sponsor of the companion bill in the House.

“I was pleased to introduce the companion legislation in the House,” said Representative Gruenberg.  “It will save babies’ lives and provide vital information to parents.  I am glad that SB 87 has passed the Senate and I look forward to cross-sponsoring it in the House.”

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