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House Passes Legislation To Fight Lyme Disease

Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies

A $9 billion healthcare bill passed by the House of Representatives on Friday contains language authored by an upstate New York Congressman to battle Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses.

The House overwhelmingly passed the 21st Century Cures Act, which includes a host of regulatory reforms and sends $9 billion to the National Institutes of Health for biomedical research, as well as half-a-billion dollars to the Federal Food and Drug Administration.

The bill also includes language that was not taken up in the Senate last year to require the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services to develop a plan to fight tick-borne illness.

Republican Chris Gibson of New York’s 19th District, who pushed for the language to fight tick-borne illness, said more than 300,000 Americans are suffering from Lyme and other infections.

“It is now a public health scourge. This is ground zero in upstate New York for Lyme disease.”

Since the condition originating from Lyme, Connecticut was discovered in the early 1980s, activists have called on governments to recognize the disease.

Gibson said he has been hounded by questions about it since his first run for Congress in 2010.

“It seemed like not a day or two went by that I didn’t have somebody come up to me and say either they were personally impacted. And this is an area where, quite frankly, there has been some medical controversy, but one thing is clear: that we have people suffering.”

The bill would acknowledge Lyme, prioritize federal research on Lyme disease, and bring together local scientists and physicians to help shape research on a national level.

“We believe this is going to help with diagnosis, with treatment, and ultimately with insurance company coverage. And here’s why:  because when I pressed the insurance companies and said ‘How come you’re not paying for more of this, our people are suffering’ they say ‘Well, if it was approved care, we’d pay for more it’. This is why the guidelines’ changing is so important and why this bill is the path to get us there,” said Gibson.

Dr. Holly Ahern, a professor of microbiology at SUNY Adirondack and co-founder of the upstate-based Lyme Action Network, said current diagnostic tests for Lyme disease miss 50 percent of cases. And better diagnostics would lead to better means of treatment.

More research would also lead to better means of prevention.

“Prevention is tricky. There are vaccines in the works that will protect people from exposure to one tick-borne disease but not all of them,” said Ahern.

Gibson is confident the bill will pass this year because it is included within the 21st Century Cures Act.

Co-sponsor Democrat Sean Patrick Maloney was scheduled to join Gibson, along with Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro and Dutchess County Commissioner of Health Dr. Karl Reiber, to discuss the legislation Monday in Poughkeepsie.

Other original co-sponsors of the bill include Joe Courtney of Connecticut, John Katko, Elise Stefanik and Lee Zeldin of New York, Lou Barletta of Pennsylvania, and Peter Welch of Vermont. 

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