Photo of mother holding newborn infantMassachusetts has joined a growing list of states that have passed legislation requiring that all newborns be screened for congenital heart defects using pulse oximetry.

Gov. Deval Patrick signed Massachusetts’ bill into law last week. It will go into effect on Jan. 1.

Pulse oximetry is a low-cost, highly-effective and painless bedside test that can be completed in as little as 45 seconds at less than $4 per baby, according to the American Heart Association.

Congenital heart defects are the No. 1 birth defect in the United States and the leading killer of infants with birth defects, according to the AHA. These defects are heart problems that are present at birth, including holes in the heart, narrowed or leaky valves and malformed or missing vessels and heart chambers.

There are about 30 states that have passed legislation requiring testing. New Mexico and Virginia finalized bills on March 4 and Feb. 20 respectively.

Legislative efforts on Pulse Oximetry screening ramped up in 2011 when Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius recommended adding critical congenital heart defects to the Recommended Uniform Screening Panel, a list of hereditary and congenital conditions that are recommended nationally for inclusion in each state’s newborn screening program. Following the recommendation, the AHA, the American College of Cardiology and the American Academy of Pediatrics jointly released a whitepaper on the benefits of the testing.

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