Health Department expands access for infants needing donor human milk

Pennsylvania. The expansion also includes a public campaign that will let parents know how to find human donor milk.

| 17 Jan 2024 | 03:40

Thanks to a new law signed by the governor, infants considered “medically vulnerable” will have expanded access to pasteurized donor human milk.

Act 32 of 2023, Owen’s Law, took effect this week and increases access to pasteurized donor human milk by expanding the number of health conditions eligible for Medicaid-covered donor human milk, Governor Josh Shapiro’s announcement explained. The new law aims to supplement a mother’s milk, and provide more options to support healthy growth for infants.

“Pasteurized donor human milk can be lifesaving, and the Shapiro-Davis Administration wants to make it easier for infants who need it to have access,” said Acting Secretary of Health Dr. Debra Bogen during a news conference at the Mid-Atlantic Mother’s Milk Bank in Pittsburgh. “Milk banks like this one, and the one at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, make it possible for all infants who need donor milk as medicine to get it if their mother’s own milk is not available to meet their needs.”

“The Department and the Shapiro Administration would like to specifically recognize the prime sponsor of Senate Bill 500, Senator Michele Brooks, Health & Human Services committee majority chair, who helped ensure swift passage of the bill,” added Dr. Bogen.

In addition to expanding the number of qualifying medical conditions for Medicaid coverage of pasteurized human donor milk, the law also requires the DOH to produce a public information campaign on the availability of pasteurized human donor milk, and directs the Department of Human Services (DHS) to create and update guidance about the usage of donor milk.

When mothers have infants in neonatal intensive care units, it can often be difficult for them to provide enough breast milk to meet all their infants’ needs. In those cases, pasteurized donor human milk can help nourish the medically fragile infants.

“The injustices inflicted on Black mothers and families echo through the present and are a foundation of today’s inequities, which result in worse health outcomes for Black mothers and babies,” said Pennsylvania Second Lady Blayre Holmes Davis. “However, we have the opportunity to rectify those injustices and end the inequities. Providing pasteurized donor human milk for children covered by Medicaid is one way to address equity issues, so financial concerns don’t stand in the way of babies receiving what they need to survive and thrive. This new law is an important step toward preventing infant mortality.”

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Pennsylvania has an infant mortality rate of 5.37 (infant deaths per 1,000 live births) based on 2021 data, which equates to 712 deaths. That rate is higher than New York’s rate of 4.16 infant deaths, and New Jersey’s rate of 3.57, but lower than other neighboring states such as Ohio, which has a rate of 7.06 infant deaths per 1,000 live births. Infant mortality rates are counted based on whether the infant dies within the first year of life. (Pike County-specific data is not available at this time.)

“For some mothers, breastfeeding may not be a feasible option. No matter what, that is Okay. Where medically necessary, pasteurized donor human milk is available and covered through Medicaid,” said DHS Special Advisor Sara Goulet. “Thanks to Owen’s Law, we’re able to provide this coverage in more cases and continue to assist all parents so they have the support they need and deserve to raise healthy babies.”

The CDC notes that breastfeeding helps boost a baby’s immune system, resulting in fewer ear, respiratory, and gastrointestinal infections. It also reportedly helps reduce the risk of developing diabetes, obesity, asthma and some cancers, and decreases the risk for Sudden Unexplained Infant Death Syndrome (SUIDS).

More information about mother’s milk banks can be found on the Department of Health’s website.