Senate, Assembly Convene Joint Oversight Hearing on Childhood Lead Levels

On Tuesday, the Assembly Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials Committee, Joint Legislative Audit Committee, Assembly Health Committee, Senate Environmental Quality Committee, and the Senate Health Committee convened a joint legislative oversight hearing on childhood lead levels following a report from the California State Auditor. Recall, the State Auditor’s report, “Childhood Lead Levels: Millions of Children in Medi-Cal Have Not Received Testing for Lead Poisoning,” was released in January and examined childhood lead exposure and screening activities of the Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) and the California Department of Public Health (CDPH). Among the findings of the report, the State Auditor determined that from fiscal years 2009-10 through 2017-18, more than 1.4 million of the 2.9 million one- and two-year old children enrolled in Medi-Cal did not receive any of the required lead level tests and another 740,000 children missed one of the two tests.

Tuesday’s oversight hearing featured an overview of the report from State Auditor Elaine Howle and her staff, as well as responses to the report from DHCS Director Dr. Bradley Gilbert, State Medicaid Director Jacey Cooper, and CDPH Deputy Director Monica Morales. In providing responses to the report, DHCS representatives discuss their plans and timelines for implementing the State Auditor’s recommendations around requiring managed care plans to identify children who missed a required test, remind the responsible health care providers of the existing requirement to test children, and implementing performance standards for lead testing. Monica Morales from CDPH discussed the department’s approach and timelines to the Auditor’s recommendations around high-risk lead exposure areas of the state, lead exposure prevention programs and activities, and healthcare provider guidance around lead exposure factors.

Both DHCS and CDPH indicated the seriousness of the topic and their commitment to addressing the issues identified in the State Auditor’s report. Many lawmakers, including Senator Richard Pan, Senator Connie Leyva, Assembly Member Jim Wood, and Assembly Member Eloise Gomez Reyes, during the question and answer session of departmental representatives expressed frustration with the number of children that did not receive required blood lead level testing throughout the state and the need for urgency by DHCS and CDPH to address the report’s findings.

The hearing also featured Dr. Robert Byrd with UC Davis Health to discuss blood lead level screening protocols and activities from a healthcare provider perspective. Public comment during the hearing largely featured representatives from children’s health, public health, and environmental health related entities.

The joint oversight hearing agenda is available here. A background memo is available here. A State Auditor’s Office handout is available here. A video recording of the hearing is available here.