With AB 1004 Signed, More Young Kids Will Be Screened Early for Developmental Milestones

First 5 LA, First 5 Association, and Children Now are thrilled by Governor Newsom’s signing of AB 1004 (McCarty), which will help ensure California’s babies and toddlers receive the developmental screenings–and eventually services–they are entitled to through Medi-Cal.

“In signing this bill, the governor is further strengthening the health care system for young Californians,” said Moira Kenney, executive director of First 5 Association of California, which represents the state’s 58 county First 5 commissions. “Universal developmental screening ensures that California’s children are screened and promptly referred to services, when needed.”

Only 36 percent of young children enrolled in Medi-Cal received timely developmental screenings in 2015, which are required as part of the federal Medicaid Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnostic and Treatment (EPSDT) benefit entitlement. A child’s brain develops rapidly during the first five years of life, and unidentified delays can negatively impact school readiness and overall well-being. Nearly half of the state’s children ages 0-5 are insured through Medi-Cal.

Heather Breen, whose daughter was diagnosed with autism three years ago, said she had flagged concerns with her doctor for years before she got an official screening and diagnosis.

“By the time my daughter received her formal diagnosis, she was almost four years old and the process had taken over a year,” Breen said. “A later diagnosis meant my daughter did not receive early intervention services that would have changed the course of her development, helped us properly care for her, and led to a better outcome.”

Developmental screenings performed during pediatric visits for babies and toddlers help to identify concerns about a child’s healthy development, and are the first step to accessing critical early intervention services. However, providers often rely on informal observation or surveillance to identify delays, rather than using a validated screening tool at the intervals recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics in their Bright Future guidelines. AB 1004 stipulates that providers adhere to the Bright Futures timeline for developmental screenings, as well as use a validated screening tool.

“The state budget included a significant multi-million-dollar investment for infant and toddler developmental screenings in Medi-Cal, and AB 1004 builds on and complements the important budget investment by setting parameters to ensure the state delivers quality child health screenings through Medi-Cal that are required by law–screenings which unfortunately for our kids have not been happening for a long time. By signing this legislation, Governor Newsom is continuing to demonstrate his commitment to support all California’s young children in reaching their full potential,” said Ted Lempert, President of Children Now.

The bill also improves oversight by aligning the state’s reporting requirements for developmental screening with implementation of the federal reporting requirements on the Core Set of Children’s Health Care Quality Measures for Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) that take effect in 2024. AB 1004 was co-sponsored by Children Now, First 5 Association of California, and First 5 LA, and authored by Assemblymember Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento).“With Assemblymember McCarty, the bill’s author, Governor Newsom and a host of other legislative leaders, California is building a brighter future for our children,” said Kim Belshé, Executive Director of First 5 Los Angeles, home to more than 650,000 young children under the age of 5. “We applaud the Governor and Legislature for  recognizing that if our children are to be ready to succeed in school and life, they must be screened for delays and, if needed, connected early to developmental services and supports.”