|Two House committees this week approved bills sponsored by Rep. Clint Owlett (R-Tioga/Bradford/Potter) that would help infants and children impacted by the state’s opioid crisis, and require the custodial or non-custodial parent of children for whom Medical Assistance is sought to enroll their children in their own health insurance plan before the state would begin paying for medical care.
HARRISBURG – Today in the state House, two committees approved legislation sponsored by Rep. Clint Owlett (R-Tioga/Bradford/Potter) that would help infants and children impacted by the state’s opioid crisis and ensure parents use private health insurance for their children, if available and financially feasible, before relying on Medical Assistance.
“Pennsylvania has been one of the states hardest hit by an epidemic of heroin and prescription opioid abuse that is plaguing our country,” said Owlett. “One of the more tragic consequences of this crisis is the devastating impact it has had and continues to have on infants and children. Newborns are suffering through withdrawal from opioids because they’ve been exposed to these drugs in the womb, and fatalities, near-fatalities, abuse and neglect of infants and young children have all been linked to parental substance abuse.”
Statistics reveal that between 2010 and 2104, more than 7,500 infants in Pennsylvania who were born on Medicaid were diagnosed with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) after their mothers had used heroin or were prescribed opioids during pregnancy. Sixty-one of those infants died before reaching their first birthday.
Furthermore, of the 1,400 infants in Pennsylvania who were removed from their homes and placed in protective custody in 2014, 817 of them (56%) had parental substance abuse as a contributing factor in their placement.
Owlett’s House Bill 316
would establish a task force that would focus on improving the safety, well-being and permanency of substance-exposed infants and other young children adversely affected by their parents’ substance abuse disorders.
The task force would be charged with identifying strategies and making short- and long-term recommendations to prioritize the prevention of substance-exposed infants; to improve outcomes for pregnant and parenting women striving to recover from addiction; and to promote the health, safety and permanency of substance-exposed infants and other young children at risk of child abuse and neglect, or have been placed in foster care due to parental alcohol and drug abuse.
The composition of the task force would include representatives from various Commonwealth agencies as well as non-governmental stakeholders and experts in the field, including behavioral health treatment providers, obstetric and pediatric physicians, early intervention providers, and providers of home-visiting programs.
House Bill 316 was unanimously approved by the House Children and Youth Committee and now goes before the full House for a vote.
During a House Health Committee meeting, members also approved Owlett’s House Bill 833
. This legislation would require the non-custodial parent of children for whom Medical Assistance is sought to enroll their children in their own health insurance plan before the Commonwealth would begin paying for medical care.
“Medical Assistance is a taxpayer-funded program and, as such, it should be the payer of last resort and used only for those most in need,” said Owlett. “Unfortunately, some children are enrolled in the program who have a parent who could add them to his or her health care plan, but don’t for any number of reasons. Even if a parent does not have custody of the child, or only has partial custody of the child, they are required to provide health insurance to their children.
“I believe, whether or not that parent has custody of the child, he or she bears a certain level of responsibility of care and should, therefore, provide health care coverage if able,” continued Owlett. “We want to make sure our tax dollars and health care resources are being put to the absolute best use and are not being used for individuals who have other access to coverage.”
House Bill 833 is also set to go before the full House for consideration.
Representative Clint Owlett
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Tricia Lehman