Pouring milk in the lab

Pennsylvania legislators urge support for bill requiring insurance to cover donor breast milk

Tribune-Review (March 29, 2022) – Pennsylvania legislators will join community advocates Wednesday to promote a bill that would authorize insurance coverage for medically prescribed pasteurized donor breast milk to infants with serious health conditions.

“Without human donor breast milk, I don’t know where my babies would be,” said Jessica Rhodes of West Mifflin. “The alternative would have been more surgeries, more hospital visits and total parenteral (intravenous) nutrition treatment that could have caused long-term severe damage.”

Rhodes’ two youngest children experienced medical issues from birth, including gastrointestinal problems, dysphagia and motility disorders. After several hospital visits, insurance appeals and paying for donor milk herself, the cost of the milk was eventually approved by Rhodes’s insurance carrier.

Soon after, she said, her children began gaining weight and seeing a decrease in infections and other health problems.

“Human breast milk provides critical nutrients, helps with development and is a lifeline for babies born with health conditions,” said Denise O’Connor, executive director for the Mid-Atlantic Mothers’ Milk Bank in Pittsburgh. “Here at the milk bank, we witness significant access issues every day.”

House Bill 2017, introduced in November as the “Protect Sick Babies Act,” would mandate coverage of medically prescribed donor breast milk by both private insurers and medical assistance managed-care groups.

“We know that (donor milk) has significant positive impacts on pre-term babies, as well as babies with other serious illnesses. It’s time that we use this science and require coverage so these tiny infants will survive,” said state Rep. Wendi Thomas, R-Northampton.

Thomas will be joined by Reps. Austin Davis, D-McKeesport, and Donna Oberlander, R-Clarion, who will encourage people to sign a petition urging the passage of House Bill 2017. The petition can be accessed online at P2a.co/wS4oVqT.

In addition to the milk bank, House Bill 2017 has also been endorsed by a coalition that includes the state chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Western PA Lactation Consultants Association, PA Breastfeeding Coalition and Geisinger Health System.

Below, natal intensive care unit director Dr. Kim Costello discusses the impact donor milk can have.

O’Connor said the bill would help unify what is a confusing variety of rules about donor milk.

“There is great variability in inpatient usage criteria across hospital systems, and many outpatients with serious issues go without due to lack of coverage,” she said.

The virtual event will run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday. For more details, see ProtectSickBabies.com.

Read the full text of House Bill 2017 at Legiscan.com/PA/bill/HB2017/2021.

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