This morning, I attended a U.S. House of Representatives hearing of the Subcommittee on Health within the Committee on Energy and Commerce at the Rayburn House Office Building. The hearing is formally titled “Examining Public Health Legislation: H.R. 2820, H.R. 1462, and H.R. 1344.” I had a very positive experience listening to the panel of physician experts answer questions posed by the Subcommittee in a very time-sensitive and pressured environment. I was surprised, however, with the casual nature with which the congressmen approached the hearing, walking in and out as they pleased on their own schedules. Perhaps they are required to attend quite a number of hearings in their career. In any case, this hearing was my first, and hopefully not my last!
Here, I briefly outline the objectives of the three bills that were discussed as well as some major talking points.
1. H.R. 2820 Stem Cell Therapeutic and Research Reauthorization Act: provides federal support for cord blood donation and research to increase patient access to transplants
- Cord blood is the blood contained in a newborn baby’s umbilical cord. It contains blood cell progenitors, which can be used as treatment for patients with damaged blood cells or weakened immune systems. Commonly, cord blood is used to treat acute myeloid leukemia.
- Cord blood banking attempts to accumulate these stem cells from donors for potential therapeutic use.
- Cord blood cells grow slower and cost more than bone marrow cells. Thus, there significant barriers to the receipt, storage, delivery, and research of cord blood.
- In a recent 25 patient study, children with autism who received cord blood cells showed decreased symptoms and demonstrated greater normalization of brain connectivity.
- “Cord blood used to be discarded as trash, and now it is being used to save lives.” -Dr. Joanne Kurtzberg, President of the Cord Blood Association
2. H.R. 1462 Protecting Our Infants Act: combats rise of prenatal opioid abuse and neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) by working to increase access to prevention, pre-screening during pregnancy, and treatment
- If a pregnant woman uses opiates, her baby will also become addicted through placental transfer. NAS is a condition resulting in a variety of symptoms related to withdrawal after opiate addition.
- America’s “heroin epidemic” beginning in 2014 and the increasing use of opioid painkillers by pregnant women account for one in 25 infants born with NAS.
- NAS demands $1.5 billion in costs, 85% of which are covered by Medicaid.
- Many pregnant women who use opioids have an unplanned pregnancy, although NAS can affect all socioeconomic backgrounds.
3. H.R. 1344 Early Hearing Detection and Intervention Act: reauthorizes a federal program for early detection, diagnosis, and treatment of deaf and hard-of-hearing newborns, infants, and young children
- The average American deaf child has a 4th grade reading level by the time of high school graduation.
- When hearing loss or deficiency is detected early, families have the option of obtaining hearing aids, implants, or other technologies beginning at birth. At this stage, deaf or hard-of-hearing children with hearing devices have the potential to develop in the same way as children with hearing capacities.
- Through this federal program, 98% of babies have been screened for hearing loss before leaving the hospital after birth.