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Ring pushes for infant heart disease screenings

Lawmakers say requiring hospitals to perform a simple test could save the lives of hundreds of newborns in the state. Regan McCarthy reports legislators are considering a bill to require hospitals to test all new babies for congenital heart disease.

Senator Jeremy Ring says the U.S. Department of Health and Human services reports congenital heart disease is the number one killer of babies born with birth defects, but he says about half the cases go undiagnosed.

“It’s amazing to me that we have 34 protocols and one of them to test is not congenital heart condition.”

Ring says requiring hospitals to perform what’s called a pulse-oximetry test to screen for congenital heart disease will help ensure Florida’s babies have the best chance at survival and a happy life. Senator Eleanor Sobel, a Hollywood Democrat, says if that’s the case, lawmakers should ensure it’s done.

“Many years ago when I was in the Florida House we had a newborn screening bill and I was the sponsor and I’m sure Senator Negron remembers this and we went from 9 to 27, now we’re at 35. Because we felt the newborns that were born in Florida were at extreme disadvantage compared to the newborns that were born in other states.”

Ring says his bill would require Florida doctors to administer the test. But Senator Joe Negron, a Republican from Palm City, says he thinks if the tests were really necessary the state wouldn’t need to pass legislation requiring them.

“When I go to the hospital for myself or for somebody in my family I’m expecting the hospital to be using the latest protocols, to be using the best technology.”

But Ring says that doesn’t always happen and he can only speculate why.

“I know it’s not a mandated protocol. I know the Florida Department of Health has recommended it. Why each hospital does or doesn’t I don’t know. I do know that last meeting the HMOs stood up and opposed the bill. They said it was too expensive, which again I would push back heavily on. So, all I can say is maybe that’s one of the reasons.”

Ring himself has some experience with the issue. Ring was born with a congenital heart defect which wasn’t discovered until later in his life. He says that’s one reason he disputes the expense argument.

“You know the median hospital charges for adult congenital heart surgery is almost 89-thousand dollars. And that’s just the median cost. So if you want to talk about cost, it saves a whole lot of money down the line if we can identify this problem.”

Ring says doctors are already doing a test to check for similar issues, and he says with a little more effort they could screen for  congenital heart disease, but they’re often not doing it. Senator Alan Hays, a Republican from Umatilla, says given that, his understanding is the additional cost to check for the issue would be minimal.

“I read the staff analysis and if my memory serves me correctly, it states that currently it costs 15-dollars for whatever testing is being done and this would add 78 cents to that sum of 15 dollars and I don’t for the life of me understand how anyone could neglect to spend 78 cents to do so much good for these little infants and their families. For me it is a no-brainer.”

The measure passed unanimously out of the Senate Banking and Insurance committee. A similar measure in the House has not been heard. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, The week of February 7th through the 14th is congenital heart disease awareness week.

Follow @Regan_McCarthy

Regan McCarthy is the Assistant News Director for WFSU Public Media. Before coming to Tallahassee, Regan graduated with honors from Indiana University’s Ernie Pyle School of Journalism. She worked for several years for NPR member station WFIU in Bloomington, Ind., where she covered local and state government and produced feature and community stories.

Phone: (850) 645-6090 | rmccarthy@fsu.edu

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