Portman, Menendez, Brown Introduce Bill to Expand Access to Lead Testing for Children

Bipartisan Legislation Requires All Children Enrolled in Medicaid or CHIP to Receive a Lead Screening Test

May 26, 2021 | Press Releases

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-OH), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) introduced bipartisan, bicameral legislation that would ensure children enrolled in Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) are tested for lead poisoning at the appropriate ages. Lead hazards in a home pose serious health and safety threats to children and could cause irreversible and long-term health, neurological, and behavioral damage.

“Lead poisoning continues to be an issue in the U.S. and Ohio is no exception — lead exposure risk from low-quality housing is especially high in Ohio, specifically in Cuyahoga County. Lead poisoning is extremely dangerous for young children, causing brain and nervous system damage, learning and behavior problems, and other serious health issues,” said Portman. “Currently only 38 percent of children on Medicaid receive their required lead screening tests, a number far too low. This bipartisan legislation aims to bring that number up by codifying current Medicaid regulations and expanding the requirements to all CHIP programs, while also helping states to better identify which efforts are needed to track potential cases of lead exposure.”

“Left unaddressed, lead poisoning can cause serious long-term health side effects in children and inhibit their ability to reach their potential. Testing is key to ensuring lead exposure is detected as early as possible,” said Menendez. “By expanding lead testing to all children enrolled in Medicaid or CHIP, we can better detect and work to treat the adverse effects in children.”

“Too many children in Ohio are being poisoned by their own homes, and too many Ohio families learn that their children have been exposed to toxic levels of lead only after they begin to experience symptoms,” said Brown“We need to make sure that all children in Ohio receive the testing necessary to diagnose lead poisoning as early as possible and ensure appropriate follow-up care.” 

Lead poisoning causes significant health, neurological, behavioral, intellectual, and academic impairments. When absorbed into the body, especially in young children, lead can damage the brain and nervous system, stunt development and growth, and cause learning or behavioral problems. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), lead-based paint hazards, such as dust containing lead and chips from deteriorated lead-based paint, are the most common source of lead exposure for U.S. children.

Children with lead poisoning require ongoing medical treatment and may need special education services. Studies have demonstrated the profound impact of childhood lead poisoning on outcomes such as school graduation rates. Lead poisoning prevention preserves a child’s ability to reach his or her full potential.

Specifically, the Preventing Lead Poisoning Act of 2021:

  • Codifies 2016 guidance from Medicaid that requires all children enrolled in Medicaid receive a lead screening test at specific ages;
  • Creates parity to ensure all children enrolled in either Medicaid or CHIP are tested for lead by extending the existing lead testing protocols in Medicaid to standalone CHIP programs;
  • Strengthens reporting standards for both CHIP and Medicaid programs, and directs the CDC to publish best practices for states on data collection; and
  • Authorizes $5 million/year for FY 2022 and FY 2023 for the CDC to award grants for states to improve their reporting on childhood blood lead testing.

The text of the bill can be downloaded here. Congressman John Katko (R-NY) is introducing companion legislation in the House of Representatives.