Study: Medicaid children not tested for lead poisoning
In this story:
February 23, 1998
Web posted at: 11:59 p.m. EST (0459 GMT)
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A new General Accounting Office study has found that children in Medicaid programs are more likely to have high levels of lead in their blood -- and not be tested for lead -- than non-Medicaid counterparts.
In a report released Monday, the GAO reports that 890,000 children nationwide have lead poisoning, and 60 percent of them are children on Medicaid.
The report says the Medicaid program requires that children be tested for lead poisoning, but many doctors apparently are not administering the test.
One Medicaid child in every 12 had an elevated level of lead in their blood -- more than three times that of the
High rate of poisoning 'intolerable'
"The high rate of lead poisoning among Medicaid children is absolutely intolerable," says Anne Guthrie of The Alliance to End Childhood Lead Poisoning. "It is even more appalling that eight out of 10 children at highest risk are never tested."
The GAO said it was unable to determine why the tests weren't being administered, but hopes to have the answer when it releases another report by the end of the year.
"The data revealed in today's GAO report underscores the critical importance of ensuring that we do a better job screening children in Medicaid populations," said Rep. Henry Waxman, a California Democrat.
"The Health Care Financing Administration (HCFA) and other agencies need to do more screening, not relax their screening requirements," he said.
Test costs $8 to $10
Congress passed a law in 1989 requiring lead screening as part of Medicaid's special preventive health program for children.
In 1991, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued revised screening recommendations, calling for universal screening and the use of the blood lead screening test. The test can cost as little as $8 to $10.
HCFA has jurisdiction over the Medicaid program, but the testing is administered at the state level.
HCFA spokesman Chris Peacock said the GAO study will be useful in helping monitor how states administer the mandatory test.
Lead poisoning is most dangerous to young children, who can be exposed to lead through paint, water supplies tainted by lead pipes, or from auto emissions in the air.
In many cases, there are no symptoms of lead poisoning. But in others, children will be irritable and sluggish and lose weight.
It not diagnosed, such problems as brain damage, seizures, coma and death can follow. Even at low levels of exposure, lead can impair a child's learning ability and motor development and can cause behavioral problems such as hyperactivity.
HCFA says it will soon publish updated rules on lead screening. The GAO will have a final report on lead poisoning and testing in October 1998.