Elevated Blood Lead Levels in Children

HEHS-98-78: Published: Feb 20, 1998. Publicly Released: Feb 23, 1998.

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Bernice Steinhardt
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the: (1) degree to which blood lead levels associated with harmful health effects exist among young children covered by Medicaid; and (2) extent to which children covered by Medicaid have had screening blood lead tests.

GAO noted that: (1) its analysis of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) data shows that lead toxicity is a significant problem for children receiving care under Medicaid; (2) these children were more than three times as likely to have high levels of lead in their blood as were children not receiving care under Medicaid; (3) GAO estimates that more than half a million Medicaid children--about 1 in every 12 children aged 1 through 5 in the program--have harmful levels of lead in their blood; (4) despite the Health Care Financing Administration's mandatory screening requirements for children in these age groups, most Medicaid children had never been checked for high lead levels; (5) for nearly two-thirds of the Medicaid children identified through NHANES screenings as having high lead levels, this was the first screening for lead they had ever received; and (6) projected to the entire Medicaid population of children aged 1 through 5, this represents about 352,000 children who probably have high levels of lead in their blood but have not been tested for it.

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