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GOP lawmakers push maternal, infant health plans

PHOENIX (AP) - A series of proposals from two Republican senators would boost funding for programs designed to increase care for new mothers and infants.

The proposals announced Tuesday by Sens. Kate Brophy McGee and Heather Carter include providing dental care to pregnant women on the state's Medicaid program and adding tests for two potentially fatal disorders to those already included in newborn screenings.

Other proposals would extend Medicaid coverage for some women for a year after they give birth and including postpartum doctor visits. Another would allow pharmacists to dispense birth control pills without a prescription to limit unwanted pregnancies that often lead to birth defects, low birth weight or other health issues.

The proposals would cost about $18 million annually, but the state's coffers are flush with cash this year as the economy expands.

Adding the two new disorders to 31 standard newborn screenings already done would be paid for in part by boosting fees insurance companies are already paying for the tests from $36 to $117 per infant. The disorders, X-ALD and spinal muscular atrophy, can be treated if they are caught early in life.

"They are deadly, deadly conditions and if they are not detected they are fatal," Brophy McGee said at a news conference.

The series of proposals are in the early stage of the legislative process, with Carter's proposal to provide dental care for pregnant mothers the farthest along. It was approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee on a 9-0 vote Tuesday after sailing through the health committee and is now ready for a floor vote. Because it involves spending, it will likely be part of budget negotiations between the Legislature and governor's office.

Carter said the $4 million price tag for dental care is speculative, and she argued that keeping mothers healthy through their pregnancies could actually save money.

"If the baby was born without complications it would more than offset the cost," Carter said. The same is true of the whole package, she said.

"We save babies and save mothers and it ultimately also saves the state money long-term," she said.

The series of proposals is backed by the March of Dimes, an 80-year-old nonprofit that supports programs designed to improve the health of babies and mothers.

Associated Press

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