Senate Passes Bill to Address Lyme Disease Treatments

June 18, 2014

The New York State Senate today passed legislation that will help doctors and patients treat the symptoms of Lyme and other chronic diseases. The bill (S7854), sponsored by Senator Kemp Hannon (R, Nassau), was among the recommendations in a report released today by the Senate Majority Coalition’s Task Force on Lyme and Tick-Borne Diseases. 

“This measure helps strike an important balance between the ability of doctors to treat patients suffering from chronic Lyme Disease symptoms, and the state’s responsibility to help protect the public,” Senator Hannon, Chairman of the Senate’s Health Committee, said. “As treatment options evolve, more doctors would be better able to make informed decisions about how to help their patients. I look forward to continuing to work towards the implementation of this and other recommendations made by the task force to prevent, diagnose, and treat tick-borne illnesses.”  

In October 2013, Senate Majority Coalition Co-Leaders Dean Skelos and Jeffrey Klein created the Senate Task Force on Lyme and Tick-Borne Diseases to examine state and federal efforts to combat the continued spread of these diseases and make recommendations for a state action plan to improve prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. 
The task force is co-chaired by Senator Hannon, Senator David Carlucci (D, Rockland/Westchester), Senator Kenneth LaValle (R-C-I, Port Jefferson) and Senator Elizabeth Little (R-C-I, Queensbury). Additional members of the task force include Senator Mark Grisanti (R, North Buffalo), Senator Kathy Marchione (R-C, Halfmoon), Senator Greg Ball (R-C-I, Patterson), and Senator Bill Larkin (R-C, Cornwall-on-Hudson). 
The Task Force released a report and legislation that provides a comprehensive set of recommendations for a state action plan to enhance research, prevention, diagnosis and treatment for harmful tick-borne illnesses. To date in 2014, more than 450 new cases of Lyme disease have been reported in New York alone, and the number is expected to continue rising each year as disease-laden ticks spread to more communities. The CDC now estimates that there are 300,000 cases of Lyme disease each year, the vast majority of which are centered in the north east.

The report’s recommendations focus on the need for: additional research and data about past, current and future disease trends; increased public awareness as the reach of the diseases spread to new communities; implementation of preventive measures such as “4 Poster” devices and bait vaccines for animals to reduce the infected tick population; and measures to enhance diagnosis and treatment for those who have the diseases.

One of the recommendations included codifying an existing state health policy and enabling the state’s Office of Professional Medical Conduct (OPMC) to maintain a flexible, case-specific, investigations policy, particularly where new treatments and acceptance by the medical community do not align. 

Some individuals infected with Lyme disease may benefit from alternative medical treatment that is not universally accepted by the medical community. Too often, doctors choose not to pursue the alternative treatment – even if they believe it is best for the patient – fearing an investigation or charges by OPMC.

This legislation ensures that determinations of effective and appropriate treatment of Lyme and other illnesses remain in the hands of medical professionals and does not subject practitioners to OPMC identification, investigation or charges based solely on their recommendation or provision of an innovative and effective treatment.

Over the past nine months, the Task Force reviewed research, consulted with experts, heard from the public and worked to develop legislation and 19 recommendations to be incorporated into a New York State Action Plan on Lyme and tick-borne diseases. This Action Plan – similar in purpose to one created by the state Department of Health in 2001 to address the West Nile Virus outbreak -- should serve as a comprehensive roadmap for the state to prevent additional illnesses by improving research, education, diagnosis and treatment.

The bill voted on today is one of four initiatives that the Senate has implemented or is in the process of implementing during this session to address Lyme and other tick-borne diseases. The others include:

· Tomorrow, the Senate is adopting a resolution calling on the Centers for Disease Control to reevaluate its guidance on Lyme and other tick-borne diseases and for the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Defense, and other federal agencies to provide more funding for these diseases. 
· The 2014-15 state budget included $500,000 to support the recommendations being developed by the task force, and $100,000, along with supporting legislation (S2115), sponsored by Senator Patricia Ritchie (R-C, Heuvelton) and recommended by the task force, for the creation of a 21st Century Work Group for Disease Elimination and Reduction within the Department of Health.
· The Senate will help increase public education through new informational brochures and wallet cards with important information about Lyme or tick-borne disease identification tools and resources.

The bill will be sent to the Assembly.