By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY – Two Alabama lawmakers are hoping to continue the positive trend in lowering the state’s infant mortality rate and have pre-filed legislation for the 2013 legislative session to address the issue.
Senate Bill 3, sponsored by Senator Gerald Dial (R-Lineville) and Representative Jim McClendon (R-Springville), would require the state’s Medicaid Agency to develop and implement policies and procedures to streamline the process for access to covered outpatient drugs for premature infants and ensure timely and appropriate access to care for premature infants.
Recently, the Alabama Department of Public Health announced that the infant mortality rate of 8.1 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2011 is the lowest ever recorded in the state. This represents 481 infants, the lowest number ever that died before reaching 1 year of age.
Dr. Donald Williamson, state health officer, said, “Historically, Alabama’s infant mortality rate has been among the highest in the nation and we must continue to address this challenging public health issue. Positive trends we are seeing include fewer teenage pregnancies and less smoking among pregnant women, and we hope to sustain these improvements in the coming years.”
“Lowering Alabama’s infant mortality rate is a critical part of our efforts to improve public health in Alabama,” Gov. Robert Bentley said. “We are encouraged by news that our rate is the lowest it has ever been, and we will work to continue our progress.”
However Alabama’s infant mortality rate is still expected to be above the national average.
“Alabama ranks among the last in the nation in infant mortality and this is simply unacceptable,” Dial said. “We have some counties with an infant mortality rate in excess of 30 percent–that means one out of three babies don’t make it to their first birthday.”
Similar legislation was sponsored by Dial in the 2012 session. The bill received favorable reports from the House and Senate Health Committees and passed the Senate without opposition.
During the last legislative session the Senate and House Health Committee affirms bipartisan support, at the time Senator Dial said, “This bill is meant to save lives throughout our state. Access to medical services is crucial to premature infants, especially during their first year of life. There is no price tag that can be put on the life of a child.”
The act seeks to have the state Medicaid Agency develop and implement policies and procedures to streamline the process for access to covered outpatient drugs for premature infants and to develop standards and common practices applicable to Medicaid programs that ensure timely and appropriate access to care for premature infants.
Dial said the bill cuts through a very cumbersome prior approval process to allow a physician to administer drugs in accordance with FDA guidelines and allows a doctor to provide all services necessary to help give a premature baby the chance to live.
He added the Alabama Department of Public Health Director Dr. Don Williamson, who is currently overseeing Medicaid, has agreed to the provisions in SB3 with the addition of a sunset provision.
“I would like to commend Dr. Williamson and Alabama Department of Public Health on their efforts to reduce the infant mortality rate in Alabama. ADPH’s effort to reduce teen pregnancy and smoking cessation among pregnant women has helped to reduce infant mortality, but we still rank 49th in the nation,” Dial said. “Dr. Jim McClendon and I have pre-filed this bill to further reduce our infant mortality rate. SB3 will help to insure that at-risk infants have access to medical care necessary for them to survive their first year. I look forward to working with Dr. Don Williamson and ADPH to pass this legislation.”