September 12, 1995
Web posted at: 12:32 a.m. EDT
From Medical Correspondent Jeff Levine
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A bill to establish minimum hospital stays for new mothers and their babies got an emotional hearing on Capitol Hill Tuesday. Proponents and opponents of the Newborns and Mothers Health Protection Act deliberated the merits of what some call "drive-through deliveries."
In a growing number of cases, mothers and their newborn babies are leaving the hospital within 24 hours. Critics say its a trend that can be dangerous or even deadly.
Virginia Leigh Fallon and her son Jesse were discharged after only 72 hours, even though the baby's cesarian section birth had been physically and emotionally exhausting. Also, the baby had a heart problem. In a matter of days, Jesse was dead.
Fallon told the committee she wants to prevent similar deaths. "I think that it's most important that this happened so that other mothers don't ever have to sit and wonder, as I do, why didn't I just clamp onto that bed and not let go?" she said.
And then there's the Baumans. All Michele and Steve have left of their daughter, Michelina, are photographs. She left the hospital 24 hours after birth, then died of a strep infection a day later. "This is the family that should have been," Steve Bauman told the committee as he held up a picture of his infant daughter. "Instead of a christening, we had a funeral."
Pending legislation would put the brakes on drive-through deliveries. Insurers would be forced to allow new mothers and their babies 48 hours in the hospital after a normal birth, 96 hours for a cesarean section. "Our bill," said Sen. Bill Bradley, D-New Jersey, "seeks to ensure that the bottom line of the insurance industry will never be able to inflict such tragedy again."
Three states have already enacted such minimums and similar laws are pending in 10 other legislatures. Major physicians' groups are backing the Newborns and Mothers Health Protection Act. But health maintenance organizations are opposed. "We're here today to ask the committee not to fix our resources on providing certain hours of stay in the hospital," Dr. Richard Marshall of Harvard Community Health Plan told the committee, "but rather to allow us to continue to focus more broadly on the issues affecting mothers and babies."
Opponents of the bill say it could set a dangerous precedent of legislative control over medicine, but lawmakers may find it hard to vote against a measure that puts women and children ahead of insurance companies.
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