Congressional leaders support bicameral bill to help drug-exposed newborns

Newborns suffering from drug addiction would have access to additional treatment options under bipartisan legislation introduced by U.S. Sens. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) and Rob Portman (R-OH) and U.S. Reps. Michael Turner (R-OH) and Evan Jenkins (R-WV) on Wednesday.

The Caring Recovery for Infants and Babies (CRIB) Act would establish a Medicaid provider-type for neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) treatment centers, helping more facilities to open across the country.

“Every 25 minutes, a baby is born already suffering from opioid withdrawal, and in West Virginia, that rate is approximately three times the national average,” Capito said. “It is vitally important that we make sure infants experiencing this pain have access to specialized care and a range of treatment options.”

Capito and Jenkins highlighted Lily’s Place in Huntington, West Virginia, which is making a difference in the lives of babies with neonatal abstinence syndrome and their families. They said the legislation would encourage more centers to open nationwide to treat those newborns.

By recognizing NAS treatment centers, the legislation would enable Medicaid to cover pediatric recovery services for babies born addicted to heroin, opioid or other drugs in both residential facilities and hospitals. In Ohio, for example, the state’s Department of Health estimates that about 84 infants are being treated for drug withdrawal in Ohio hospitals every day, Portman noted.

The CRIB Act, which is similar to the Cradle Act that Jenkins introduced in the 114th Congress, would also emphasize counseling and support for mothers and families at residential pediatric recovery centers to help foster strong family connections from birth.

“Suffering through withdrawal from exposure to heroin and other opioids is a horrific way to start one’s life, but that’s the reality for many newborns in West Virginia and across the country,” Jenkins said. “These newborns need specialized care to help them recover from drug exposure before they were even born.”

“We can work together to cut red tape, fight the drug crisis, and ensure healthy lives for babies and children across our country,” Jenkins added.

Congress must fight to protect the most vulnerable victims of the opioid epidemic, Turner said, which are newborns who were brought into the world addicted to drugs through no fault of their own.

“This bill will aid organizations that provide medical care for innocent drug-exposed newborns,” Turner said. Specifically, it will allow Medicaid to be used to reimburse medical facilities outside of hospitals that provide newborns with this important care. We are going to continue to fight for funding to address this issue of the heroin epidemic.”

Portman’s Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), which was signed into law last year, enacted important changes to ensure that hospitals followed a plan to safely care for babies that were born dependent on opioids or other substances. In addition, a pilot under CARA will fund residential treatment for women that allows babies to stay in a safe environment with their mother, instead of being removed from the home.

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Angus King (I-ME) helped introduce the bill in the Senate, while U.S. Reps. Katherine Clark (D-MA) and Tim Ryan (D-OH) sponsored the bill in the House.