MILWAUKEE — Health advocates in Wisconsin are pressuring the state Legislature to pass a bill requiring hospitals to screen all newborns for critical congenital heart disease.

The American Heart Association, March of Dimes, the American Academy of Pediatrics and other infant health advocates are pushing for the bill, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Wednesday ( ). The proposal would require a pulse oximeter test for all babies born in Wisconsin to measure oxygen saturation in the newborn's blood.

The proposal has been introduced in both the state Senate and Assembly but has not been advanced out of committee.

Advocates estimate the cost of screening at $4 per infant, and insurance usually covers the procedure. Because all hospitals already have pulse oximeters, advocates argue the mandate will not be a financial burden, and about 80 percent of Wisconsin hospitals already perform the test.

Wisconsin also has a $3 million federal grant to educate hospitals across the state and help implement pulse oximetry screening through a pilot project.

Still, "not every hospital is voluntarily doing it and some that are might not be following the protocols quite properly," said Jay Matz, southeastern Wisconsin communications director for the American Heart Association.

Congenital heart defects account for nearly 30 percent of infant deaths due to birth defects, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the United States, about 7,200 babies, or 18 per 10,000, are born every year with critical congenital heart defects.

Babies with congenital heart defects usually require surgery or catheter intervention in the first year of life.

"Once you have an abnormal screening, a baby could be referred immediately to a pediatric cardiologist," said Stuart Berger, medical director of the Herma Heart Center at Children's Hospital and chief of pediatric cardiology at the Medical College of Wisconsin. "That would allow you to intervene sooner rather than later."

When Melanie Moody gave birth to her third son, Aiden, 6 ½ years ago, five weeks passed before anyone even thought of checking his blood saturation. Aiden was rushed to the hospital, where the echocardiogram revealed he had one of the critical congenital heart defects that can be detected through pulse oximetry 24 hours after birth.

Today, Aiden uses a feeding tube for 50 percent of his daily intake and is on seven daily medications. He has weekly therapy visits for physical, occupational and speech therapy.

"You always wonder if it would have been detected earlier on could things have changed," said Moody, 34, of Oconomowoc. "Things could be very different for Aiden."