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Governor Signs “Nisi Act”



PHOTO: Courtesy of Seantor Micciche's Office

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

ANCHORAGE –Today, Governor Parnell signed legislation 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 January 2014.

“Standardizing the practice of screening for congenital heart disease is a simple and cost effective way to save so many Alaskan lives," said Senator Micciche. “Every week, babies in Alaska are discharged from hospitals with undetected heart problems. This year alone, 115 Alaska babies will be born with congenital heart defects — the number one killer of infants with birth defects.”  

Pulse oximetry is a non-invasive, painless test which measures the amount of oxygen in a 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 better-equipped facilities for hearing testing already required by Alaska law. Senator Micciche also emphasizes that parents retain the right to opt out of the testing.

“I sponsored this bill first and foremost with the intention of ensuring the health of as many Alaska babies as possible,” said Senator Micciche. “Second, I want to provide for a system to implement the testing process in a simple way that does not complicate the work of our state’s medical providers. This law achieves 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 birth hospitals. That recommendation is endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, March of Dimes, American Heart Association and the Newborn Coalition. 13 states have already adopted testing laws, 20 others are currently considering similar legislation, and many larger medical facilities in Alaska have begun testing newborns. 

The bill’s unofficial title is ‘The Nisi Act’, named after Senator Micciche’s niece.

“My beautiful niece, who we call Nisi, was lucky to be born in Japan last November and diagnosed with congenital heart disease,” said Senator Micciche. “She was, however, fortunate to be born in a country where testing to detect heart defects in newborns is standard practice. Were it not for the testing and the subsequent early treatment she received, I could be telling you a very different story today.”

Representative Max Gruenberg, D-Anchorage, sponsored the companion bill in the House and is a longtime advocate of congenital heart screening.

For more information, please contact Doug Letch in Senator Micciche’s office at (907) 465-2828.

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