WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) hosted a news conference call as he leads bipartisan legislation with Sens. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Rob Portman (R-OH) to ensure children enrolled in Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) are tested for lead poisoning at the appropriate ages. Early detection helps ensure children with lead exposure receive the care they need to treat any adverse effects. Testing can also help identify lead hazards that pose serious health and safety threats to children and could cause irreversible and long-term health, neurological, and behavioral damage.

“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 Sen. 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.” 

Brown was joined on the call by Dr. Edward M. Barksdale, Jr., MD, Surgeon-in-Chief at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital (UH Rainbow) in Cleveland.

“As the Chief of Surgery at Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital in Cleveland, I witness first-hand the devastating impact of lead poisoning on not just the immediate health but also the long-term wellbeing of children and the community. While primary prevention of lead exposure is our ultimate goal, testing of high-risk children at recommended ages is very important: to prioritize intervention to prevent further lead exposure in kids with elevated blood levels, identify children who require medical management for very high levels, and to connect children with services to support their healthy development. We appreciate the Senator’s drawing attention to the importance of access to lead testing for children, and his support for preventing lead exposure as a critical pediatric public health imperative,” said Dr. Barksdale.

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, and 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.

Medicaid estimates that there are currently over four million children who live in homes that expose them to lead. In 2018, more than 3,800 Ohio kids tested positive for lead levels.

Lead was used in house paints before it was regulated away in 1978. As a result, much of Ohio’s housing stock built before 1980 likely contains some lead-based paint. According to a study done by the Ohio Housing Finance Agency, over two-thirds of occupied housing units in Ohio are old enough to contain at least some lead-based paint. That study found that of these units, 427,875 – or 9.4 percent of all households – are either home to young children or have young children present at least eight hours a week (such as a home-based childcare provider), and are considered to be at risk of lead-based paint hazard.

While primary prevention is the best way to reduce lead exposure and improve outcomes, early detection is critical for addressing the detrimental long-term impacts of lead exposure. While Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) have taken steps to address this crisis by requiring lead poisoning screening of children, only 60 percent of Ohio’s high-risk children receive screenings. More must be done to strengthen and enforce these screening requirements and improve data coordination across state programs. Brown believes Congress must ensure that every child at-risk receives timely screening and appropriate care.

Specifically, the Preventing Lead Poisoning Act of 2021 would:

  • Codify 2016 guidance from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which was issued at Brown’s urging, that requires all children enrolled in Medicaid receive a lead screening test at specific ages;
  • Create 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;
  • Strengthen reporting standards for both CHIP and Medicaid programs, and direct the CDC to publish best practices for states on data collection; and
  •  Authorize $5 million per year for FY22 and FY23 for the CDC to award grants for states to improve their reporting on childhood blood lead testing.

Infrastructure investment provides an opportunity to direct more resources to Ohio communities to remove lead from pipes, homes, and other sources of lead poisoning. Brown has been pressing for Congress to pass historic investments in infrastructure and good-paying jobs that can’t be exported, such as those in the American Jobs Plan, which contains provisions to help build and rehabilitate housing, commercial buildings, schools, and child care facilities all over the country. It also includes provisions to help deliver clean drinking water to Ohio communities by eliminating lead pipes and service lines, thereby improving the health of our children and communities of color.