Howse said the March of Dimes continues to work toward that goal. As of last year, about half of all states tested newborns for all 29 conditions recommended by the American College of Medical Genetics. "We're going to remain in watchdog status and keep moving to close the gap," she said. "We're also going to pay close attention to make sure we keep the gains intact in this tough economy."
The March of Dimes estimates that about 4,000 babies with metabolic disorders were discovered via newborn screening in 2004, and another 12,000 were found to have a hearing impairment.
"Hearing problems are a more frequent occurrence, and it's important to catch when children are newborns," Howse said.
A complete newborn screening that tests for all 29 conditions costs about $100, according to Howse, and is covered by most insurance companies.
"What's more expensive is if the conditions are missed and kids need catastrophic care," she said. "And the human consequences are tragic."
Dr. Jerry Vockley, director of genetics at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, said that he can recall one devastating case from the pre-screening era in which a child had one of the disorders that's now tested for and ended up in intensive care for several months. He said the cost was between $500,000 and $1 million.
"It doesn't take too many of those kids to win back the cost of the entire screening program," Vockley said. "It's very cost-effective."
Vockley said he's glad for the state mandates because they might make it easier to garner resources to treat infants, but he pointed out that a lot of hospitals were doing the screening tests long before they became required by their state. <
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