By Jackie Zulli
Earlier this year, the state House approved legislation sponsored by Rep. Kathy Rapp, R-Warren, that provided a key lifeline to people living with Lyme disease.
Rapp’s bill “requires health insurers to cover treatment plans for Lyme disease or related tick-borne illnesses as prescribed by a patient’s health care practitioner, regardless if the treatment plan includes short-term or long-term antibiotic treatment.”
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that is transmitted through the bite of an infected tick. Pennsylvania is ground zero for Lyme disease.
Insurance coverage for diagnosis and treatment is a major barrier to accessing medical care for countless Pennsylvanians. If treated early, Lyme can be cleared up rather easily. But it goes undetected or untreated, the disease can spread through the body, affecting even the brain and heart. The most severe cases of Lyme can be debilitating, and even cause death.
With Pennsylvania leading the nation in Lyme disease cases, the time for the state Senate to act on Rapp’s bill is now.
States with fewer cases than Pennsylvania have already passed legislation to mandate similar coverage. To be clear, the bill does not legislate treatment. On the contrary, it enables licensed health care providers to make treatment decisions based upon their best clinical judgment, without interference from third-party insurers.
Pennsylvanians who can afford it are spending tens of thousands of their own money to get better. However, for most people, that kind of spending is out of reach. They are struggling to pay for continuing treatments to maintain their health.
Not surprisingly, big health insurance companies oppose the bill. They claim the treatment option of long-term antibiotics beyond two to four weeks is unsafe. This is a thinly veiled argument.
These same insurers cover antibiotic treatment for relatively more benign problems, such as acne and rosacea, for two to three years. They don’t have a problem with that. Lyme is much more devastating and is spreading rapidly throughout our state. Patients need treatment options.
We thank the state House for standing up to the health insurance industry and overwhelmingly passing Rapp’s bill. Now it’s the Senate’s turn. We encourage the state Senate to follow suit and pass Rapp’s bill (HB 629).
If you or someone you know has or is suffering from Lyme or other tick-borne diseases, we urge you to contact your state lawmakers, share your personal story and ask them to support this important bill.
Jackie Zulli is a board member — and patient — of the Pennsylvania Lyme Resource Network, a public health advocacy group based in North Wales, Pa.