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House Subcommittee Evaluates Public Health Legislation

On June 25, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health held a hearing, “Examining Public Health Legislation.” The hearing focused on several bills, including the Protecting Our Infants Act (H.R. 1462) and the Early Hearing Detection and Intervention Act (H.R. 1344).

Protecting Our Infants Act

H.R. 1462, sponsored by Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA), would require the secretary of Health and Human Services to study and develop recommendations for the prevention and treatment of prenatal opioid abuse and neonatal abstinence syndrome. Among other provisions, the bill would prevent opioid abuse among pregnant women and women of childbearing age.

Speaking in support of H.R. 1462, Stephen W. Patrick, assistant professor, Pediatrics and Health Policy, Department of Pediatrics, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, stated: “Neonatal abstinence syndrome is a drug withdrawal syndrome that infants exposed to opioids experience shortly after birth. Opioids pass from the mother through the placenta to the fetus. At the time of birth, when the supply of opioids is stopped, the infant is at risk of developing drug withdrawal within the first few days of life. Infants with neonatal abstinence syndrome have difficulty feeding and are more likely to have breathing problems, tremors, increased muscle tone, fever, difficulty sleeping, and inconsolability.” Dr. Patrick continued, “The complexity of perinatal opioid use and neonatal abstinence syndrome requires a thoughtful public health approach targeting the pre-pregnancy, pregnancy, and post-pregnancy periods for women and infants. Our goal should be to promote healthy mothers and infants by supporting prevention and recovery: Enhancing public health measures to prevent opioid misuse even before pregnancy, improving screening for drug use during pregnancy, and improving identification and treatment of infants suffering from neonatal abstinence syndrome.”

Early Hearing Detection and Intervention Act

H.R. 1344, sponsored by Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-KY), would reauthorize programs at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Health Resources and Services Administration, and National Institutes of Health for the early detection, diagnosis, and treatment of deaf and hard-of-hearing newborns, infants, and young children.

Patti Martin, director, Audiology and Speech, Pathology Services for the Arkansas Children’s Hospital stated: “Hearing loss is the most frequently occurring condition for which newborns are typically screened…If hearing loss is not detected early it can be devastating to children’s academic and psychosocial development. There is now abundant scientific evidence showing that the brain develops in response to early visual and/or auditory stimulation, which is critical for children with hearing loss.” Dr. Martin continued by stating that research has demonstrated important language skills are learned before the age of three. In speaking in support of H.R. 1344, she stated, “H.R 1344 is focused on continuing to provide limited federal support to programs already in place to improve hearing screening for newborn infants and young children. In the previous version of the bill, the focus was exclusively on infants. This bill reauthorizes services for babies and extends services to young children. This is critical because the incidence of hearing loss triples between birth and five years of age and this bill allows us to identify this group of children as well, and intervene so that they enter our schools ready to learn.”

The following witnesses also testified:

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