New Bills Seeks to Help Babies Born With Drug Dependency

By Paul Gaita 05/23/17

The Caring Recovery for Infants and Babies (CRIB) Act would offer newborns specialized care under Medicaid.

newborn baby inside of an incubator

Bipartisan groups of senators and congressmen have re-introduced legislation that would allow Medicaid to expand coverage for drug-dependent newborns. The bill would let children suffering from neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), a condition caused by the use of opioids or other addictive substances in pregnant women, to receive Medicaid-covered treatment in both hospital environments and residential pediatric care facilities, and reduce regulatory hindrances to opening more centers.

The bill is sponsored by both of Ohio's senators—Democrat Sherrod Brown, who also introduced the original CRIB Act, and Republican Rob Portman—along with Senators Shelly Moore Capito (R-W.VA) and Angus King (I-Maine). A companion bill, The Caring Recovery for Infants and Babies (CRIB) Act, was introduced in the House by U.S. Representatives Evan Jenkins (D-W.Va), Mike Turner (R-Ohio) and Katherine Clark (D-Mass.).

Most babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome are treated at hospitals in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), which, while providing quality service, often costs five times more than treatment for newborns without health issues. NICU facilities often feature bright lights to alert medical staff and considerable noise, which lawmakers argue is not conducive for babies to recover from withdrawal symptoms. Residential pediatric recovery centers would provide an alternative to the NICU scenario, but in an environment more suited to such children and their families. The bill would incur no cost to taxpayers. 

Both Senator Capito and Representative Jenkins highlighted the care provided by Lily's Place, a residential pediatric recovery center in Huntington, West Virginia, as indicative of the bill's longterm goals.

"These newborns need specialized care to help them recover from drug exposure even before they were born," said Jenkins. "Lily's Place is making a difference in the lives of babies with neonatal abstinence syndrome and their families, and we should encourage more centers to open nationwide to treat these newborns. We can work together to cut red tape, fight the drug crisis, and ensure healthy lives for babies and children across our country."

Both the Senate bill and the CRIB Act would expand Medicaid coverage for drug-dependent infants, while the CRIB Act would establish residential pediatric care centers within Medicaid to treat such children. It would also establish a provider type that would clearly define these centers, and also include counseling to the mothers and families as part of its treatment options.

Rates of babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome have risen dramatically in the last 15 years; a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that incidents of babies born with the condition have risen to 6 out of every 1,000 hospital births in 2013, up from 1.5 per 1,000 in 1999. Capito and Jenkins' home state of West Virginia had the highest rate of incidents, with 33 out of every 1,000 babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome in 2013.

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix

Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.