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Donor breast milk bill blocked in closed-door budget talks

ALBANY — A low-cost proposal to expand the use of breast milk to save premature babies’ lives and avoid lifelong disabilities has been dropped from closed-door budget negotiations, two senior legislators said Monday.

Senate Health Committee Kemp Hannon (R-Garden City) and Assembly Health Committee Chairman Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan) made a last-ditch case for the bill in the final week of negotiations over the $162 billion state budget.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo vetoed the bill a year ago after it was overwhelmingly passed by the Senate and Assembly. The governor argued the measure should be part of the state budget talks because it involves a cost.

“That has not happened,” Hannon said.

Gottfried called the lack of action on the bill “kind of negligent homicide.”

Cuomo didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Hannon and Gottfried said that while there is an adequate supply of breast milk in a statewide “milk bank” for many families, state aid is needed to make breast milk available to low-income families and those that qualify for Medicaid. The lack of access for poorer families has resulted in some purchases of breast milk over the internet, which the legislators called a dangerous option.

Hannon and Gottfried said they have gotten no legitimate reason for blocking the bill.

They said the $3 million cost to process breast milk from the milk bank to feed premature babies, including those whose families qualify for Medicaid, could save the state health system $350,000 for hospital care for babies that can’t fight off certain diseases without breast milk.

The legislators, flanked by neonatal physicians, said the 3,000 premature babies born each year in the state account for 2 percent or less of births. But care for premature babies accounts for 70 percent of public neonatal costs.

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