University of California and Assemblymember Weber announce legislation to close nutrition disparities for vulnerable babies

Sacramento, Calif. — Today, February 26, the University of California and Assemblymember Akilah Weber, M.D., announced AB 3059, which will help eliminate disparities in accessing medically necessary pasteurized donor human milk, known as donor milk, for newborns in need.

“Addressing disparities in health care means looking at access to life-saving nutrition,” said the author of the bill, Assemblymember Weber. “When we hear that the mortality rate for Black infants is three times higher than for white infants, we need to identify what can be done to address staggering disparities within newborn care. We know that breast milk is the optimal nutrition source for vulnerable babies. AB 3059 will make it clear that donor milk is an essential health benefit, paving the way for better health outcomes for all vulnerable babies in California.”

While donor milk is a covered benefit under Medi-Cal, existing law does not clearly define it as a covered benefit under commercial plans. AB 3059 would ensure that families with commercial insurance receive coverage for medically necessary donor milk. Maternity and newborn care are listed as essential health benefits, and AB 3059 would clarify insurance requirements to ensure donor milk is covered for all when needed.

Donor milk is milk donated by lactating people who are screened for lifestyle and health risks and then donate extra milk to an accredited milk bank. Operated by UC San Diego Health, the University of California Health Milk Bank is only one of three milk banks in California.

“The sad truth is that when vulnerable babies are born, about 80 percent need additional nutrition,” added Lisa Stellwagen, M.D., FAAP, Medical Director of the UC Health Milk Bank. “Our number one goal at the UC Health Milk Bank is to make sure that hospitals are easily able to offer donor milk for babies who need lifesaving nutrition. I am immensely grateful for Assemblymember Weber for authoring this bill — AB 3059 will mean more healthy babies across California’s hospitals.”

Breast milk is the optimal nutrition source for hospitalized very low-birth-weight babies. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends donor milk if the mother is not able to provide sufficient breast milk.

“Access to donor milk can be a lifeline to newborns and their families,” said University of California President Michael V. Drake, M.D. “We are grateful to Assemblymember Weber for partnering with the University to address health care disparities. AB 3059 will expand access to the life-saving care that hospitals provide to vulnerable babies.”     

After donation, donor milk is processed, pasteurized, tested, and provided to hospitals and families. Through AB 3059, hospitals will be able to more easily provide and distribute donor milk to babies in the NICU.