Testimony: Senate Bill 229
By: Alice K. Gong, MD
May 18, 2011
Chair Kolkhorst and members of the committee, I am Alice Gong, MD. I am a physician and professor of pediatrics at The University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio, and a member of the Texas Medical Association’s Committee on Maternal and Perinatal Health. It is a privilege for me to speak with you today on behalf of the Texas Medical Association, the Texas Pediatric Society, and the Texas Academy of Family Physicians, which represent nearly 48,000 physicians and medical students in our state. I am here to express our support of Senate Bill 229.
SB 229 helps guarantee all babies born in Texas have equal access to an important hearing screening. Hearing loss is a condition affecting hundreds of Texas families each year. In fact, of the 1,100 babies who are born each day in Texas, at least two babies will have hearing loss or deafness. For a child born with hearing loss, a newborn hearing screen means he or she will have access to earlier referral, diagnosis, and treatment.
Texas has made great improvements to ensure Texas newborns are properly screened for hearing. We are pleased that almost all of the hospitals in Texas currently exempted from screening requirements still provide hearing screening for newborns. SB 229 addresses some of the gaps still left in the statute. Physicians know that identifying hearing loss and deafness in the first six months is a life-changing factor in the development of language and the ability of a child to learn. All babies in Texas should have the opportunity to be screened regardless of the type of facility in which they’re born.
Detecting hearing loss in the first days of a baby’s life is key to ensuring that parents can learn how to help their baby develop. Each day in the baby’s life makes a difference, and thanks to early intervention efforts, children born with hearing loss can develop communication skills comparable to those of their peers by the time they are 5 years old. This means that a child born with a hearing loss in Texas does not have to be born with a lifelong disability.
We support the involvement of midwives in the screening process. According to a report from the Department of State Health Services (DSHS), almost 17,000 babies were delivered by midwives and other nonphysician attendants in 2008. DSHS estimates that in 2009, as many as 5,500 babies were born in midwife-operated birthing facilities. Now, thanks to this legislation, babies born in these facilities or under the care of a midwife would be guaranteed a hearing screening or referral at birth — not months or years afterward. Any time lost between a child’s birth and screening puts the baby’s early development at stake.
With this legislation, Texas would join more than 25 states that follow the national recommendations of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Medical Genetics, and the March of Dimes, all of which support universal newborn hearing screening.
I thank you for your attention and welcome any questions you may have. Our physicians are pleased to be part of the newborn hearing screening process. With your support, this legislation will ensure almost all children born in Texas are properly screened for hearing impairments. We encourage your support for SB 229, and we welcome the opportunity to work with you in your consideration of this legislation.