On Monday, California hospitals will begin screening all newborn babies for 75 genetic disorders, when a law that expands the state's existing mandatory screening program takes effect. The existing testing program covers fewer than 40 diseases. Families with religious objections to the test will not be required to participate in the program.
Supporters of expanded screening note that identification of genetic disorders at birth enables early intervention and treatment, which can save lives. In an 18-month pilot of the expanded screening panel, disorders were detected in 52 infants in participating hospitals in the state.
Opponents of expanded newborn screening programs identify a number of problems, including the rarity of some of the conditions included in the panel; the lack of proven treatment for some conditions for which tests have been developed; and the risks and side effects associated with unnecessary treatment in infants who have only mild forms of a disorder. There is also the PR rep's nightmare question: whether such costly screening programs are more worthy than other public health efforts, given the number of lives saved.
The new program will cost taxpayers approximately $80 million per year, or $78 per screening. Medi-Cal, the state's Medicaid program, will cover the screening panel.
Read more in the Contra Costa Times here, or in the Sacramento Bee, here