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Children's National Disappointed in Gov. Bob McDonnell's Veto of Newborn Heart Disease Screening Legislation

Washington, DC—Today Governor Bob McDonnell vetoed legislation that would have taken the first step toward saving the lives of newborn Virginia babies who die each year from heart disease.

The legislation, HB 399, would have fast-tracked implementation of screening in all Virginia hospitals to ensure that every child would have access to a simple, yet vital, screening test for critical congenital heart disease (CCHD).

“While we commend the Governor for acknowledging CCHD screening is an issue that deserves attention, we respectfully disagree that convening a no cost, public-private stakeholders group to ensure that all hospitals in Virginia – both urban and rural – have the necessary tools to implement a newborn screening program is unnecessary,” said Jacqueline D. Bowens, Executive Vice President & Chief Government Affairs Officer at Children’s National. “It is the role and responsibility of state government to establish uniform standards for statewide newborn screening. As such, to replace the pathway established in HB 399, we urge Governor McDonnell to formally direct the Department of Health to convene experts and stakeholders to establish a plan for implementation of statewide CCHD screening this year.”

“Screening for critical types of congenital heart disease using pulse oximetry is simple, non-invasive, inexpensive, and helps to identify newborns with congenital heart disease so they can get early care,” said Gerard Martin, MD, Senior Vice President, the Center for Heart, Lung and Kidney Disease at Children’s National. “Doctors and nurses can perform this simple test just after birth to help detect a life-threatening condition when we do other routine tests. We are deeply troubled by the Governor’s veto of a bill that could bring such dramatic benefit to newborns.”

“If serious forms of congenital heart disease are missed, lifelong health problems or death may result. Some hospitals in Virginia, but not all, are already screening newborns for CCHD and this bill would have guaranteed smart and cost effective care to all children in Virginia, regardless of where they live,” said Martin.

Potentially Far-Reaching Implications

Gov. McDonnell’s veto of this legislation could also hurt Virginia’s chances of receiving $1 million in badly needed federal funding to help address this public health issue, said one of the bill’s supporters, Cathleen Smith Grzesiek, senior director of government relations for the American Heart Association.

“This legislation would have shown the federal government that Virginia is serious about saving the lives of newborns with heart disease, increasing our chances to get financial support to make progress on this issue and make a difference for more Virginia families,” said Grzesiek.

More about Critical Congenital Heart Disease

Critical congenital heart disease (CCHD) is the most common birth defect and is often missed in routine prenatal and newborn examinations. Simple, non-invasive screening is now available to catch defects that can cause serious long term consequences if left untreated.

House Bill 399 would have established a process for statewide implementation of newborn screening for CCHD. This type of screening is endorsed by The American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Cardiology, the American Heart Association, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human and Human Services.

“It is critical that all newborns in Virginia are screened for congenital heart disease. Without mandatory screening, babies will die,” said Jodi Lemacks, national program director of Mended Little Hearts, American Heart Association volunteer, and a mother of a child born with a congenital heart defect. “There is no doubt that screening for the disease using pulse oximetry saves babies’ lives. In New Jersey, just one day after Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill mandating screening into law, a baby boy’s life was saved.”

HB 399 received unanimous approval from the House of Delegates and the Senate during the 2012 legislative session and enjoys support from health care providers and child advocacy organizations from across the Commonwealth. The Virginia Chapters of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Heart Association have already expressed disappointment in Gov. McDonnell’s veto of HB 399.

Contact: Paula Darte or Susan Muma at 202-476-4500.

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