Lawmakers Advance Donor Breast Milk Bill

By John Celock

The Kansas House of Representatives voted unanimously last week to advance legislation to reimburse for the cost of donor breast milk for intensive care newborns.

Under the legislation hospitals would be eligible for reimbursement under the state’s Medicaid program for the costs of the donor breast milk for those in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Rep. Barbara Bollier (R-Mission Hills), who introduced the bill, told colleagues that breast milk is needed to help babies in the NICU thrive.

“Under current law it is not reimbursed. What has been found is that babies do better with breast milk,” Bollier said during last Thursday’s debate. “It requires a donor since a mother might not be able to provide the milk herself. She could be taking medication that you don’t want to give the baby.”

Bollier, a retired physician, told colleagues that it costs between $4.50 and $6.50 an ounce for donor breast milk on top of the $50,000 a day cost for NIUC treatment. Bollier told The Celock Report that the idea was brought to her by a hospital in suburban Kansas City that houses the breast milk bank and she believed that Medicaid should be reimbursing the costs.

Bollier told the House last week that donor breast milk has a positive effect not only on infant’s health but also on costs.

“Babies tend to leave the ICU one to three days earlier and potentially avoid serious complications like necrotizing enterocolitis,” she said during the debate. “That can cost up to $300,000 to treat.”

The issue of donor breast milk reimbursement has been gaining interest in state legislative health circles around the country. Missouri has enacted a law for the reimbursement, while a similar bill is pending in Maryland. Under federal Medicaid guidelines, states can enact donor breast milk reimbursement programs.

The National Association of Neonatal Nurses is advocating for states to adopt donor breast milk reimbursement programs. NANN estimates that for every dollar spent on reimbursement, a state can save up to $11 in Medicaid costs.

The Kansas breast milk bill did open up to a brief debate over Medicaid expansion in the state. Rep. Jim Ward (D-Wichita) surprised the House by offering an amendment to Bollier’s bill to allow for Gov. Sam Brownback (R) to expand Medicaid without legislative approval. Bollier was not aware of Ward’s plan, which he did not share with other Democrats or Medicaid lobbyists.

Ward withdrew the amendment after receiving assurances from House Speaker Ray Merrick (R-Stilwell) and Health and Human Services Committee Chairman Dan Hawkins (R-Wichita) that the health committee would hold hearings on expanding Medicaid in Kansas. Kansas lawmakers in 2013 passed legislation that requires that any Medicaid expansion, part of the Affordable Care Act, can only be adopted by the state Legislature.

Ward did praise the breast milk bill when introducing the amendment.

“This is an excellent bill. What it does it expands Medicaid,” Ward said. “What it says is that it tells (the Department of Health and Environment) that you will pay for breast milk as a medical treatment.”