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State Government Efforts Focus on Early Screening

April 20, 1998|KATHLEEN DOHENY

While some researchers focus on treating midlife hearing loss, others are concentrating on early detection. As many as six of every 1,000 infants are born with significant hearing loss, according to the California Department of Health Services. Often, the loss goes undetected until the child is 2, when a delay in normal speech often becomes noticeable. By this time, the child is at risk for serious language delays and learning problems.

* In January, the California Senate passed SB 555, the Universal Newborn and Infant Hearing Screening, Tracking and Intervention Act. The law would require acute-care hospitals to provide hearing screening tests to at least 95% of newborns. (Testing of every infant is not considered feasible, because some babies are born outside of hospitals or in hospitals where the testing equipment is not immediately available.)

Introduced a year ago by Sen. Diane Watson (D-Los Angeles), the bill would appropriate $2.5 million from the General Fund for implementation and go into effect on Nov. 1, 1999. Individual test costs are estimated at $25 by Geri LaDuke, legislative consultant for Watson. The bill is now in the Assembly health committee. For more information, the public may write to state Sen. Diane Watson, State Capitol, Room 2191, Sacramento, CA 95814.

* Gov. Pete Wilson's proposed budget for fiscal 1998-99 includes $6.1 million to provide newborn-hearing screenings and early intervention for infants born in California Children's Services-approved hospitals. About 70% of California births occur in the 100 CCS-approved hospitals in the state.

* At the federal level, in November, Rep. James T. Walsh (R-N.Y.) introduced a bill, HR 2923, which would help states obtain seed money to set up infant screening programs. The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Commerce, says Walsh spokeswoman Martha Carmen.

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