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Prenatal Screening Program

Woman looking at pregnancy test in her hand

Summary of California Prenatal Screening Tests

It is important to get prenatal care as soon as you think you are pregnant. Early care can help you have a healthy baby.

During your pregnancy, your prenatal provider will offer prenatal genetic screening (testing) to see if your fetus has an increased chance for a birth defect. They will also offer follow up tests if needed.

These tests are available to you only if you want them. They are provided by the California Prenatal Screening (PNS) Program. They are paid for by Medi-Cal. Health plans and most private insurance will pay some or most of the fee. 

Prenatal screening won’t tell you if your fetus has a certain birth defect. It will only tell you if there is an increased chance of the birth defect. It’s then up to you whether you want to have a follow up (diagnostic) test to confirm.

Diagnostic tests will give you more definite information but carry a very slight chance of complications.

While it's your decision, you should always talk to your prenatal care provider or genetic counselor about the pros and cons of prenatal screening and diagnostic testing.

Prenatal Screening Tests

One or two blood tests, plus a special ultrasound, can help detect some birth defects. For example, they can help find structural conditions like spina bifida and Down syndrome in fetuses. Spina bifida is a birth defect that often causes paralysis. Down syndrome causes intellectual disability. Prenatal screening tests also help find some other birth defects.

Can I have prenatal screening tests to help find birth defects?

Yes. If you want the tests, talk to your doctor or clinic. You will receive a booklet to read.

How can I get the prenatal screening tests?

A doctor or clinic will order one or two blood tests:

  1. Get a blood test between 10 weeks and 13 weeks 6 days of pregnancy. This is called a First Trimester Test.   
  2. Get a second blood test between 15 and 20 weeks of pregnancy. This is a Second Trimester Test.         

 Sometimes you can also get a special ultrasound called Nuchal Translucency (NT). It is done between 11 weeks 2 days and 14 weeks 2 days of pregnancy. If the results of these tests are put together, it is called Integrated Screening. The PNS Program does not cover the cost of NT ultrasounds.

What do the prenatal screening test results show?

Most of the time screening results will be  "Screen Negative." This means your baby probably does not have spina bifida, Down syndrome or some other birth defects.

What if the prenatal screening test results are "Screen Positive"?

A Screen Positive result means that there is an increased chance for some birth defects. But follow-up diagnostic tests are needed to know if the fetus really has a birth defect.

You will be offered follow-up services at a state-approved Prenatal Diagnosis Center at no extra charge. A genetic counselor will explain the screening test results and offer free diagnostic testing. Most of the time, no birth defects are found during diagnostic tests. Most babies are healthy. Once in a while,  diagnostic tests will find a birth defect. A counselor will help the woman or couple make decisions about the pregnancy.

How much does prenatal screening cost?

The fee is $ 221.60 for prenatal screening, and covers the blood tests as well as any authorized follow-up diagnostic tests. Medi-Cal will pay the fee. Most health plans and insurance companies pay some or most of the fee. 

This fee does not cover Nuchal Translucency Ultrasound (NT). You must contact your health plan or insurance to find out if that test is covered.

How can I get more information?

Please talk to your prenatal care provider about these prenatal screening tests. All pregnant women will receive a patient booklet. Patients should sign the consent form 'Yes" or "No" and the consent form will be placed in your medical chart.

What if I choose to skip screening and just get diagnostic testing?

Patients with a family history of birth defects may want to just get diagnostic testing first instead of screening. Talk to your prenatal care provider about this option. 

If you choose not to get screened in the PNS Program and opt for diagnostic testing instead, you must also contact your health plan or insurance to find out if the tests are covered.

Program Resources

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