Cruz’ newborn screening bills unanimously pass House Committee

HARRISBURG, Sept. 18 – State Rep. Angel Cruz, D- Phila, Democratic chairman of the House Human Services Committee, today announced that two pieces of legislation he authored, H.B. 730 and H.B. 1220, to provide early detection of treatable disorders in newborns, unanimously passed out of committee.

House Bill 730 seeks to expand the list of mandatory screenings done at birth and to create a dedicated funding source for Pennsylvania’s Child Screening and Follow-up Program. Under current law, Cruz said, the state Department of Health operates the program between two lists: a short list of mandatory screenings and a longer list of optional ones.

“While some hospitals and families choose to screen for the optional diseases, many Pennsylvania newborns are only screened for diseases on the short, mandatory list,” Cruz said. “This has created a system in which the health of Pennsylvania newborns is dependent on where they are born or whether their parents have knowledge of those diseases.”

The expansion measure in H.B. 730 specifically calls for merging the two lists, mandating that every baby born in Pennsylvania is screened for every recommended disorder.

“I attempted to address this issue with Act 148 of 2014 by expanding the list of mandatory screenings, however, the health department was unable to fully implement that law due in part to the lack of funding,” Cruz said. “In response, I have worked closely with the department, stakeholders and families over the last four years to find a solution to this problem.”

A second bill, H.B. 1220, would provide education and screenings for cytomegalovirus, a congenital virus that affects approximately 1 in every 150 babies, or 30,000 annually.

The bill would require testing for CMV in newborns that fail their required newborn hearing screening or if testing for the virus is requested by the parent or guardian, to identify infected babies and ensure improvements in their developmental outcomes.

The virus is widely prevalent but can be asymptomatic and transmitted from pregnant mothers to their infants. Of those babies born with cytomegalovirus, 1 in 5 will develop permanent impairments such as hearing loss, vision loss or developmental disabilities.

Cruz said that, because CMV is so prevalent, Pennsylvania must create public awareness to prevent the long-term problems it causes.

“My legislation would generate public awareness by requiring the Pennsylvania Department of Health to provide educational information about CMV,” he said.  

The bills now go to the full House for a vote.