Earlier this year, the Village of New Hyde Park made news by opening Long Island’s first milk depot for young mothers and their infants. Later, local leaders lobbied for legislation that would assist in ensuring financial support for the use of donated, pasteurized milk for those needy infants and their concerned mothers. Now, both the New York State Assembly and New York State Senate have unanimously approved financial coverage of donor breast milk.
The legislation, said Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages, will allow Medicaid funds to cover the cost of donor breast milk for premature infants who need it. The funds, Solages added, will cover the cost of milk from a certified milk bank, plus a handling fee. Currently, five other states—California, Missouri, Kansas, Texas and Utah, plus the District of Columbia—provide 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 Solages. “I applaud my colleagues in the Senate and Assembly for supporting New York state’s agenda to support, women, families and new mothers.”
Supporters of the legislation, which include State Senator Kemp Hannon, have noted that of the approximately 250,000 births in New York state, roughly 3,500 (1.5 percent) are born at low birth weights. These infants, lawmakers added, spend months in neonatal intensive care units. Low birthweight infants may suffer from respiratory, neurologic and nutritional disorders. Donor milk, many child advocates claim, is uniquely suited to the fragile digestive systems of such newborns. Due to 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 legislation will help poorer mothers on Medicaid get better access to such milk.
“The legislation…addresses a life-threatening health disparity,” said Elie Ward, director of Policy and Advocacy for the New York State 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 to survive.”
“We at Mothers’ Milk Bank Northeast welcome the state legislature’s passage of this important donor breast milk bill,” added Naomi Bar-Yam, executive director of that organization. “Now, all of New York’s tiniest patients will have the strongest chance for the best possible health outcomes, regardless of their economic status.”
Macaluso Medical on Hillside Avenue is home to the first nonprofit milk depot on Long Island. Dr. Lauren Macaluso helped to bring the depot to New Hyde Park.
“It is the first depot on Long Island in coordination with the New York State Milk Bank,” Macaluso said last month, in an interview with The Floral Park Dispatch. “We have had one big donor so far and have been getting a lot of calls from women who want to donate their milk.”
In order for women to donate their milk they must first go through a detailed screening process by the state’s milk bank, Macaluso noted. The process, she added, requires women to first be screened by phone and then goes over their full medical history. The prospective donors are also tested for certain diseases and records must be supplied by their physician and their baby’s physician.
If they are approved for the milk bank, they are given a donor identification number and are asked to bring their supply of milk to their nearest depot, which in this case, would mean Macaluso Medical.
Macaluso said the goal with the Milk Bank is to open up more depots throughout New York to help women feed their babies.
“People are going to want this, they’re going to ask for this. Mothers want to maximize their infant’s health,” said Macaluso.
And now, state legislature is going to make that task of insuring a youngster’s health that much easier.