Not all health bills draw controversy

“Pulse oximetry.’’

The term sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie. In reality, it’s about current human life in its most fragile state.

Pulse oximetry is a test to help detect congenital heart defects in newborns by measuring how much oxygen is in their blood.

A proposal for Georgia to study the efficacy of this screening was approved by a Senate health committee Wednesday.

House Bill 745 was one of several lower-profile bills –- on topics ranging from health fraud to pill mills to elder abuse –- passed by the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

Dr. Cyrus Samai, a pediatric cardiologist at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, testified that one of every 100 newborns has a congenital heart defect.

An undetected problem can lead to ‘‘catastrophic consequences,’’ said Samai, who spoke in support of the pulse oximetry legislation.

The cost of such testing would be roughly $4 per child, he said. “It’s cheap, easy and readily available,’’ he said.

He said Atlanta’s Northside Hospital is moving toward implementing the test, and other states, such as Maryland and New Jersey, have passed similar legislation.

Two mothers of children with birth defects also testified in favor of the bill.

Melissa Harvey of Newnan said that fortunately for her, a nurse detected a problem at the hospital with her newborn daughter.

“It’s my hope you will support this bill for the future babies of Georgia,’’ Harvey told the panel.

If the bill is passed, a report on whether pulse oximetry should be a standard test for Georgia newborns would be delivered to legislators next year.

Meanwhile, a proposal to strengthen regulation and penalties for unlicensed personal care homes also advanced. The sponsor of House Bill 1110, Rep. Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta), said the bill “can keep fly-by-night personal care homes from operating in the state.’’

Cooper cited a case of an operator of an unlicensed home who is charged with exploitation and neglect after he abandoned four people with mental illness in an empty Winder rental house.

The proposal also authorizes the GBI to investigate cases of elder abuse, which Cooper said is rampant in Georgia.

Ann Williams of the Georgia Council on Aging said the bill ‘‘will add another level of protection.’’

House Bill 822, which was also approved, would beef up Medicaid anti-fraud efforts. (Here’s a recent GHN article about the state’s current fraud crackdown.)

And House Bill 972 would give the state medical board the authority to license and regulate pain management clinics. The legislation, which aims to crack down on pill mills, is backed by state Attorney General Sam Olens, who says these narcotics operations have poured into Georgia since Florida passed a tough law against them.

One above-the-radar bill was also discussed by the Senate panel: legislation requiring drug testing of welfare applicants.

That proposal was not on the committee’s agenda, but the lawmakers discussed a combination of similar House and Senate bills.

Whatever form Senate Bill 292 and House Bill 861 take, the final drug-testing proposal — along with other social issues bills, such as on abortion and contraception – are almost certainly going to be high-profile items during the final days of the 2012 legislative session.