The current US mandatory newborn screening panel does not include spinal muscular atrophy, the most common fatal genetic disease among children. We assessed population preferences for newborn screening for spinal muscular atrophy, and how test preferences varied depending on immediate treatment implications.
We conducted an online willingness-to-pay survey of US adults (n = 982). Respondents were asked to imagine being parents of a newborn. Each respondent was presented with two hypothetical scenarios following the spinal muscular atrophy screening test: current standard of care (no treatment available) and one of three randomly assigned scenarios (new treatment available to improve functioning, survival, or both). We used a bidding game to elicit willingness to pay for the spinal muscular atrophy test, and performed a two-part model to estimate median and mean willingness-to-pay values.
Most respondents (79% to 87%) would prefer screening their newborns for spinal muscular atrophy. People expressed a willingness to pay for spinal muscular atrophy screening even without an available therapy (median: $142; mean: $253). Willingness to pay increased with treatment availability (median: $161 to $182; mean: $270 to $297) and respondent income. Most respondents considered test accuracy, treatment availability, and treatment effectiveness very important or important factors in deciding willingness to pay.
Most people would prefer and would be willing to pay for testing their newborn for spinal muscular atrophy, even in the absence of direct treatment. People perceive the spinal muscular atrophy test more valuable if treatment were available to improve the newborn's functioning and survival. Despite preferences for the test information, adding spinal muscular atrophy to newborn screening programs remains controversial. Future studies are needed to determine how early detection may impact long-term patient outcomes.