Wisconsin Examiner

Baldwin Pushes for Action on Lead Poisoning

Urges Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to improve lead screening data.

By , Wisconsin Examiner - Oct 30th, 2019 11:12 am
Lead service lines replaced by the Milwaukee Water Works with corrosion control visible in pipe. Image from Milwaukee Water Works.

Lead service lines replaced by the Milwaukee Water Works with corrosion control visible in pipe. Image from Milwaukee Water Works.

Sen. Tammy Baldwin is joining 16 Senate colleagues in calling on the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to tackle the looming issue of childhood lead exposure. The Senators sent a letter to Sema Verma, administrator for CMS, calling for renewed efforts to address issues in lead screening data.

Current federal law requires lead screenings as “appropriate for age and risk factors,” during the enrollment process for Medicaid. Sen. Baldwin and her colleagues, however, feel screenings at 12 months and 24 months of age are not enough.

“Childhood lead exposure remains a serious public health challenge for communities across the country,” the Senators wrote. “With Medicaid serving as an essential health coverage source for the nation’s children, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services plays a critical role in the prevention, screening, and treatment of children affected by lead exposure.”

The Senators added that “progress in addressing this public health crisis will continue to be stifled without significant leadership from CMS and other federal agencies.” Their letter notes that, “while CMS has concurred with the recommendation in the 2019 GAO report regarding the need to collect accurate and complete data on blood lead screening for Medicaid beneficiaries, to our knowledge, CMS has not identified any concrete steps to meet the recommendation included in this report.”

The letter posed seven questions to CMS revolving around exactly what it is doing, or plans to do, in order to improve lead screening data.

Lead exposure in children remains a key concern for families both in urban and rural parts of Wisconsin. Residents in Milwaukee have implored city officials to fund lead lateral replacement programs, sometimes to little effect. Nevertheless, the state legislature continues to explore ways to mitigate water pollution and contamination. Gov. Tony Evers declared 2019 the Year Of Clean Drinking Water in the state, and his administration has drafted new policies to safeguard clean water.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also recently updated its rules for lead and copper contamination in water. Although advocates say the rule change was decades in the making and an important step forward, it still may not go far enough.

Childhood lead poisoning can lead to a variety of physical and psychological effects, including learning difficulties, behavioral disorders and poor physical health. The Department of Natural Resources estimates that it would cost $2 billion to replace Wisconsin’s 200,000 lead service lines.

“We write to receive an update on the steps CMS is taking to address demonstrated gaps in data pertaining to blood lead level screenings,” the Senators wrote. The legislators “urge CMS to renew its commitment to ensuring appropriate lead screening for children at risk of lead exposure.” The senators have given CMS until November 30 to respond to their letter.

Reprinted with permission of Wisconsin Examiner

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