Lyme Disease Funding Virtually Nil In Northeast

By Quinn O’Callaghan 

Despite a growing burden of cases, financing for Lyme disease has yet to pick up in some of the most affected states.

The incidence of Lyme disease in states such as Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts has soared to over 50 cases per 1,000 people as of 2012, according to the Centers for Disease Control. However, financing to fight the disease in those states has been almost non-existent. The Massachusetts state legislature has been kicking around Lyme disease-related bills for the past five years, including a bill that would establish a Lyme disease research facility at Worcester, according to the Massachusetts state general court. Not only has the funding for the research facility failed to pass, the state has yet to make any headway in handing out cash for funding Lyme research through the state’s Department of Health.

Delaware has no pending or recent legislation in the works to finance Lyme disease research in the state. New Jersey, likewise, has seen no actual funding bills come through or pass in legislature. Most of the states with the highest Lyme disease burdens, according to a state legislature database, have done little to finance the attack against Lyme disease beside introducing, and occasionally passing, laws to help ensure that Lyme disease treatment is covered by insurers, and that Lyme disease treatment has specific, uniform protocol to achieve insurance coverage.

According to CDC research, 11 of the 13 states that report 95 percent of Lyme cases are located in the northeast.

The prospect for more financing for Lyme disease on the federal level appears similarly bleak. Every year since 2008, New Jersey Representative Chris Smith (R-4th) has introduced a bill calling for $20 million to be annually awarded to the CDC for Lyme disease research. Beside a single debate on the House floor in 2008, the bill has found little traction and has stalled out on the floor of the Senate.

In contrast, in the state of New York, where Lyme disease rates have fallen in recent years due to the disease’s migration to more sparsely inhabited areas in the upstate region, as well as increased awareness among Empire State residents, political enthusiasm to finance the fight against the disease remains high.

According to the Center for Disease Control, cases of Lyme disease in New York state have fallen in recent years, from 5,471 in 2008 to 2,044 cases in 2011, the last time that data was collected.

And yet despite the decline in cases, Lyme remains a hot-button issue in the mid-Hudson area.

In 2013, after the annual state allotment for Lyme disease research fell from $150,000 in 2008 to $69,500 in 2011, according to the Poughkeepsie Journal,  state Senator Terry Gipson of Rhinebeck introduced a bill to endow the New York State Department of Health with $1,000,000 to combat the disease.

To compare Lyme funding with another New York state bug-borne darling, that’s ten times more than the state offers as reimbursement to counties that spray insecticides to control mosquitoes that carry diseases such as West Nile virus and Eastern Equine encephalitis.

“The Hudson Valley, and Dutchess County in particular, has become known as an epicenter for Lyme and tick-borne illness,” said Gipson. “I have met with many individuals and families that are suffering from the effects of these diseases, for instance:  a family that had to refinance their home to afford long-term treatment for their child, a young professional who has paid thousands of dollars for treatment, and constituents who have told me that they had to stop treatment because they simply can no longer afford it. Lyme and tick-borne illness knows no political stripes, everyone seems to know someone who has been impacted.”

Gipson says that while he believes that the Lyme epidemic is underestimated nationwide–a claim supported by a recent CDC press release–that it’s up to the voting public to get their legislators in shape when it comes to tick-borne illness awareness.

“I have had advocates reach out to me from Connecticut to Georgia about my legislation, and I believe it’s important for them to educate their lawmakers, as many of my constituents have educated me about the seriousness of this health issue.”