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Senators unveil bipartisan prescription for opioid-addicted newborns

State House Bureau

December 20. 2017 7:55AM
Republican state Sen. Jeb Bradley, left, joins Democratic Sen. Dan Feltes, right (with daughter Iris), in announcing new legislative initiatives to address the rising number of babies born with symptoms of opioid addiction. (Dave Solomon / Union Leader)

Nurse Stacy MacLean cares for a baby born with symptoms of opioid withdrawal at Concord Hospital’s special-care nursery in this 2015 photo. (SHAWNE K. WICKHAM/UNION LEADER FILE)

CONCORD — Two leading state senators, one Republican and one Democrat, unveiled legislation to help address the plight of babies born with symptoms of opioid addiction, on the same day a new study was released documenting the scope of the problem.

Republican Majority Leader Jeb Bradley and Democratic Sen. Dan Feltes joined representatives of New Futures and the Carsey School of Public Policy on Tuesday in a State House presentation on the rise of neonatal abstinence syndrome in New Hampshire.

Bradley and Feltes announced they would co-sponsor legislation to appropriate $1 million toward counseling and other services for at-risk families, and seek to expand access to Medicaid by pregnant women seeking counseling for substance abuse disorders.

Both lawmakers also took advantage of the opportunity to encourage the Legislature to reauthorize the expansion of Medicaid in New Hampshire, which will otherwise sunset at the end of 2018 and end coverage for about 50,000.

Their announcement came after Kristin Smith, a family demographer with the University of New Hampshire Carsey School of Public Policy, reported on her research in cooperation with New Futures, a statewide health policy and advocacy group.

In the 10 years from 2005 to 2015, the number of New Hampshire infants born with symptoms of opioid addiction, known as neonatal abstinence syndrome, increased fivefold, from 52 to 269, with NAS newborns accounting for 2.4 percent of deliveries during 2015.

“Think about that,” Bradley said. “For every 100 children born in New Hampshire today, 2.5 have an addiction problem from the moment they are born. That is an alarming statistic.”

Bradley cited the report’s findings that the average NAS newborn requires a hospital stay of 12 days, compared to three days for the general population, and that much of that cost is borne by Medicaid.

“The costs are significant, both in terms of broken families and costs to our budget,” said Bradley, who shared a copy of the proposed legislation he will cosponsor with Feltes.

One measure provides funding for services that families at risk can access on a voluntary basis, paid for by the state, for up to 180 days.

Families eligible for the services would include those for whom reports of child abuse or neglect were deemed “unfounded but with reasonable concern,” a new category for the Division for Children, Youth and Families created by the Legislature this year.

Services typically include health education, injury prevention, assistance with enrollment in health insurance, nutrition programs, child care payment assistance, family mentoring, domestic violence prevention and home visiting.

The Carsey School report can be viewed below:

The two senators are also collaborating on a change to state Medicaid rules, which currently allow Medicaid to cover counseling services for pregnant women only if they are 21 or younger and having their first child.

“Our legislation would remove that restriction on age and whether you’re having a first child,” said Bradley. “It’s very important for anyone who is having a NAS baby to get the kind of services and counseling they need regardless of their age.”

Bradley and Feltes said they would work separately on Medicaid reauthorization bills, but both agreed that continuation of the program is key to addressing the opioid addiction crisis and its effects on newborns.

The fate of the expansion, which added 50,000 new enrollees to Medicaid, is uncertain, given opposition within the Republican caucus. “I’m looking forward to the debate,” said Bradley. “I know there will be one.”

Feltes, who appeared with his newborn daughter Iris in his arms, said the amendments to the Child Protection Act he and Bradley are proposing will hopefully encourage addicted pregnant women to seek treatment without fear of losing custody of their children.

“Right now parents in the Granite State are choosing between their kids or treatment,” he said. “That’s not fair to our kids, the health of our workforce, our businesses or our economy.”

Courts Public Safety Health Politics

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