N.Y. AG Spitzer Urges Improved Lead Testing of Children

September 6, 2005

New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer has released a report urging improved testing of infants for lead poisoning. The report includes 10 recommendations to increase childhood lead testing in New York.

One of the key concerns raised in the new report is that one-year-olds in New York may not be getting tested, as required by law. The report specifically urges HMOs and state health officials to make concerted efforts to ensure these one-year-olds are tested in greater numbers.

“No child in New York should suffer from lead poisoning simply because he or she was not tested in time,” Spitzer said.

Spitzer also called on the State Health Department to require that HMOs report lead testing results for both one- and two-year-old children. Spitzer’s office found that even though the law requires screening at both age one and two, the State Health Department currently only requires HMOs to report the number of two-year-olds that are tested. As a consequence, HMOs may not be testing one-year-olds as thoroughly.

In order to meet the goal set by the federal Centers for Disease Control of eradicating childhood lead poisoning by 2010, Spitzer said his appeal is targeted directly to HMOs to immediately improve lead testing among their network physicians by using the guidelines contained in his report.

Children are exposed to lead primarily from chipping lead paint in their homes, air pollution and lead in various products. Currently, approximately 10,000 children are considered lead poisoned each year in New York State alone. New York has the largest number (3.3 million) and percentage (43%) of homes built before 1950, where lead paint is most likely to be present.

Spitzer’s report recommends that HMOs:

1. Ensure that lead testing starts at age one;
2. Offer incentives to parents who get their children tested on schedule;
3. Offer incentives to doctors who test a high percentage of children;
4. Regularly assess lead testing compliance strategies to help ensure deployment of the most successful strategies;
5. Make testing easier and more accessible at primary doctors’ offices by using less invasive lead testing methods;
6. Engage in early and regular member education, including reminders to expectant parents and attention-grabbing “Birthday Card” lead testing reminders before a child’s first and second birthdays;
7. Translate educational materials into multiple languages to adequately educate diverse member populations;
8. Educate doctors and other providers about the importance of lead testing;
9. Monitor and evaluate network providers’ lead screening practices and numbers; and
10. Conduct regular community outreach to engage and educate members.

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