Two House leaders introduce human milk donor bank bill

HARRISBURG, June 28 – Two members of House leadership from different parties are working together on legislation to regulate and license donor human milk banks in Pennsylvania.

Reps. Donna Oberlander, R-Clarion/Armstrong/Forest, and Rosita Youngblood, D-Phila., the respective caucus secretaries for House Republicans and Democrats, have introduced the Keystone Mothers’ Milk Bank Act (H.B. 2516).

Youngblood said, "The regulation of donor milk banks and their operation is necessary to ensure the safety of this precious commodity and its effective distribution to children in need.  We recognize that a mother’s own milk is the optimal nutrition for newborn infants and is a public health goal for the delivery of food to all infants. However, many mothers face unique obstacles to producing enough milk for their own babies. When a mother’s own milk is not available, donor human milk can provide a life-saving health benefit for high-risk infants as a supplement or bridge when it is determined to be medically necessary and physician-prescribed."

Oberlander said, "Donor milk is life-saving medicine for infants with very low birth weights less than four pounds, preventing the onset of serious gastrointestinal problems that can require surgery and entail thousands of dollars in medical costs. Without donor milk, these health issues can continue throughout that child’s life. Donor milk is also medically prescribed for children with heart problems and other compromising health care issues."

The legislators said there is also anecdotal evidence, with additional research in progress, that the use of donor milk can aid infants with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) when an opioid-addicted or recovering mother gives birth and cannot feasibly breastfeed her baby.

Based on the report recently issued by the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council (PHC4), the rate of NAS in infants in the state has increased 1,096 percent over the last 16 years, with an average hospital stay five times longer than all other newborn hospital stays. NAS carries a risk of multiple health complications, including low birth weight, prematurity, gastrointestinal problems and respiratory issues. The PHC4 report states that Pennsylvania Medical Assistance in 2017 "was the anticipated primary payer in 86.9% of NAS-related hospital stays, compared to 40.7% of all other newborn stays."

The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly advocates for the use of donor human milk for medically fragile newborns when provided through properly regulated milk banks, where appropriate measures are used to screen volunteer donors, and collect, store, and process the milk for distribution, the legislators said.

The bill calls on the Pennsylvania Department of Health to license donor milk banks if they are in compliance with the act or certified as a member in good standing of the Human Milk Banking Association of North America or another nationally recognized accrediting organization for the operation of milk banks. It also outlines licensure fees and prohibited practices that would preclude the direct or indirect sale of human milk by any entity not licensed in Pennsylvania.

The Department of Health would have to prepare a biennial report providing the number and location of licensed milk banks and a summary of the amount of donor milk donated, processed, and distributed in Pennsylvania.

Oberlander said, "Research clearly demonstrates that donor milk reduces infant mortality and prevents long- term health complications for medically vulnerable children. This serves to reduce overall health care costs, but more importantly, is of immeasurable value to the children we all vow to protect."

Youngblood said, "I'm pleased with the bipartisan support our bill has already received. I think this is a commonsense bill we should all be able to agree on."

The bill has been referred to the House Health Committee for consideration.