Politics & Government

'Birth tax' – The cost of newborn screenings is going up. Republicans say it'll save lives.

In this Thursday, May 12, 2016, photo, obstetrician technician Sherron Harris collects a blood sample from newborn Ellie Bailey in the nursery at Community Hospital North in Indianapolis.
In this Thursday, May 12, 2016, photo, obstetrician technician Sherron Harris collects a blood sample from newborn Ellie Bailey in the nursery at Community Hospital North in Indianapolis. AP

The cost of the state's newborn health screening would nearly triple under a budget provision aimed at expanding the number of health conditions included in the screening.

The fee would increase from $44 to $128 to cover the equipment and personnel costs of the expanded screening.

"We're pretty excited about this provision being in there and what the implications are," said Rep. Nelson Dollar, a Wake County Republican, adding that the fee is covered by insurance or Medicaid for most families. "The sooner you can treat this babies, the better their health outcomes are going to be."

But the provision, in a state spending plan released Monday and scheduled for votes this week, drew criticism from Gov. Roy Cooper's administration.

"Republicans tripling a birth tax on new mothers while giving more tax breaks to corporations and those earning more than $200,000 per year epitomizes the priorities we need to change," Ford Porter, a spokesman for the Democratic governor, said in an email.

Republicans aren't allowing changes to the budget, so the fee is likely to become law.

During a committee hearing, Rep. Carla Cunningham, a Mecklenburg County Democrat, questioned whether parents could opt out of the new elements of the screening and pay a lower fee.

"The screening panel is not like a cafeteria style," replied Rep. Greg Murphy, a Pitt County Republican and the legislature's only doctor.

The new conditions being added to the screening are Pompe disease, Mucopolysaccharidosis Type I (MPS I), and X-Linked Adrenoleukodystrophy (X-ALD). Murphy noted that Duke University has developed a cure for Pompe disease, but doctors have to catch it early.

"Yes, it costs more, but in the long run it'll save lives," Murphy said of the increased fee.

The provision allows the Department of Health and Human Services to expand the conditions tested in the future to match a federal list, with the ability to increase fees to cover future additions to the testing cost. Parents are allowed to opt out of the screening if they file a written request with their doctor.

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