Missouri would speed the screening of newborns for potentially severe medical problems under legislation sponsored by an area lawmaker.

The changes could amount to “the difference between life and death, and complications,” said state Rep. Sheila Solon, R-Blue Springs.

Speed is essential, Solon says. Every baby born Missouri gets a blood test – a poke on the foot – and those samples are sent to a state lab in Jefferson City.

“We screen for over 100 newborn ailments,” Solon said. For instance, a milk intolerance, if not diagnosed right away, can lead to brain damage, she said. One baby in 600 is born with a potentially severe or even deadly condition than can be managed if caught in time. Nationwide, the screening helps thousands annually.

Under state regulations, hospitals have 24 hours to pull the blood sample and 24 hours to get that sample to Jefferson City, but, Solon said, those rules have no teeth. State regulators can only call tardy hospitals and ask them to do better. Solon, who said recent newspaper reports got her to look into the issue more deeply, also found that the state lab isn’t open on Saturdays and there’s no courier service on weekends and holidays.

The result, she says, is that 11 percent of the 66,000 samples in 2012 took five days or longer to get to the lab.

Her bill would put the 24-hour rule into law. Each hospital would have to assign someone to be responsible for seeing that the samples are taken and shipped quickly.

The lab would be open Saturdays, and the courier service would run seven days a week. Those two changes would cost about $200,000 a year, and Solon said she’s working with the chairman of the House Budget Committee to find the money.

There’s also a potential savings for taxpayers. In Missouri, 48 percent of births are paid for by Medicaid. Quick screening followed by action to head off problems could not only improve lives but save on medical costs down the road, she said.

Her bill has been referred to the House’s Special Standing Committee on Emerging Issues in Health Care.