Bill Ensuring Adequate Financial Support for Donor Breast Milk Receives Legislative Approval

The New York State Assembly and New York State Senate unanimously approved financial coverage of donor breast milk.

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Assemblywoman Solages with advocates from New York State Donor Breast Milk Bank and Emily Bell, a woman who lost her child due to the lack of access to breast milk.

Albany, NY - June 15, 2016 - The New York State Assembly and New York State Senate unanimously approved financial coverage of donor breast milk. Chair of the Senate Standing Committee on Health, Kemp Hannon, and Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages were joined by Chair of the Assembly Standing Committee on Health, Richard N. Gottfried and Assemblymember Steve Englebright in calling for the passage of A9353A/S.6583.

This legislation will allow Medicaid funds to cover the cost of donor breast milk for premature infants who cannot receive breast milk or whose mothers cannot provide breast milk. The funds will cover the cost of milk from a certified milk bank, plus a handling fee.  New York will join California, Missouri, Kansas, Texas, Utah and Washington D.C. in providing insurance coverage for donor human milk.   

“Equal access to donor breast milk will positively impact the life chances of our state’s tiniest and most critically ill babies, said Assemblymember Michaelle C. Solages. “I applaud my colleagues in the Senate and Assembly for supporting New York State’s progressive agenda to support, women, families, and new mothers.”

“Breastfeeding is one of the most effective ways to provide a child a healthy start in life. While a mother’s own milk is the optimal nutrition for her baby, donor breast milk is the next best option for mothers who are unable to produce breast milk or infants who are unable to receive maternal breast milk. This legislation will ensure infants in need of such nourishment are able to receive donated, pasteurized breast milk.” stated Senator and Senate Health Committee Chair Kemp Hannon.

“Providing Medicaid coverage of donor breast milk is a health equity issue,” said Assemblymember and Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard N. Gottfried., “More than 70% of pre-term births in New York State are covered by Medicaid,” he added.

Based on New York State live birth data, approximately 3,500 infants would be eligible for this treatment under the new legislation. “Access to affordable donor breast milk for these infants could save the state an estimated $10.5 million in direct hospitalization costs,” said Assemblymember Englebright.  

Of the approximately 250,000 births in New York State, roughly 3,500 (~1.5%) are born at very low birth weights.   These infants spend months in neonatal intensive care units.  Very low birthweight infants suffer primarily from respiratory, neurologic and nutritional disorders. And for mothers who cannot provide breast milk for medical or other reasons, donor milk is simply better suited to the fragile digestive systems of these newborns than commercial formulas.

Due the high costs associated with securing donor breast milk, some hospitals allow parents to purchase donor human milk from a certified donor human milk bank. The purchase option creates an unjust, significant healthcare disparity as wealthy mothers can afford this treatment while babies to poor mothers on Medicaid are denied this “best” quality of care.  

"The NYS legislature passed A.9353C/S.6583B; legislation that addresses a life threatening health disparity,  said Elie Ward, Director of Policy & Advocacy for the NYS American Academy of Pediatrics. "Providing insurance coverage for very sick and very small newborns will help some of our most fragile babies from low income families’ survive." she continued.  

“Serving 18 hospitals and countless outpatient families in New York, we at Mothers’ Milk Bank Northeast welcome the state legislature's passage of this important donor breast milk bill,” stated Naomi Bar-Yam the Executive Director of Mothers' Milk Bank Northeast and President-Elect of the Human Milk Banking Association of North America. “Now, all of New York’s tiniest patients will have the strongest chance for the best possible health outcomes, regardless of their economic status.”

Only about 1.5 percent of babies born in the state will meet these requirements, but critically-ill, very low birth weight babies like those eligible constitute the majority of the Medicaid budget for neonatal care.  Providing coverage for donor milk from a certified milk bank for use in feeding extremely high risk, very low birth weight infants, whose moms cannot for medical reasons provide breast milk, will provide New York’s neonatal physicians with a successful, cost-effective method for helping our state’s babies prevent complex infection, illness and even death.

The bill now heads to Governor Andrew Cuomo's desk for consideration.