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Brooks’ Lyme Disease bill passes Senate

Sen. Michele Brooks’ legislation to help provide coverage for doctor-recommended Lyme disease treatment is on its way to the state House of Representatives.

The state Senate this week unanimously approved Brooks’ bill (Senate Bill 1188).

Additionally, this legislation requires the Department of Health to work with the Tick Research Lab of Pennsylvania at East Stroudsburg University to develop an electronic database for use by the Lab, the department, and health care professionals. The database would include nonidentifiable patient information, including tick testing information, results, and zip code and county location of ticks tested at the Tick Lab; diagnostic testing information and results; and the surveillance criteria applied to determine the confirmed or suspected patient diagnosis from the attending health care professional.

“In regards to the Department of Health, it’s concerning to me that Pennsylvania has invested more than 10 million in the past few years and really we’ve made no progress on addressing tick-related diseases or mitigating the tick population,” said Brooks, R-Erie/Crawford/Mercer/Warren, during a Health and Human Services Committee meeting when the bill was approved. “Over $10 million. I think all of us will agree that with over a $10 million investment we need to do more than just say to people, check yourself for ticks. Wear white socks. Spray if you go into the woods. Seriously. Over $10 million and that’s the progress we’ve made. This legislation takes it to the next step by also creating a database, tracking tick-related diseases and trying to identify a plan of how we mitigate the tick population.”

In 2019, there were 6,763 confirmed and 2,235 probable Lyme disease cases reported in this Commonwealth, according to data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This is an incidence rate of 52.8 in 2019 and 62.3 over three years. From 2000 to 2021, more than 110,000 Lyme disease cases have been confirmed in this Commonwealth, but since the CDC’s number only represents confirmed cases, the actual number of Lyme disease cases may be far higher. These numbers continue to increase, and Pennsylvania is categorized as a “high incidence” area.

Brooks’ legislation also requires coverage for doctor-recommended Lyme disease treatment, including providing coverage for diagnostic testing. From 2000 to 2018, there have been 106,718 confirmed Lyme disease cases in Pennsylvania, but Brooks said the disease may be more prevalent because the CDC’s data only represents confirmed cases. One in four cases of Lyme disease occurred in children, and children ages 5 to 9 are at the greatest risk for contracting Lyme.

A financial analysis of the bill projects a $1.8 million cost the first year and $1.1 million a year afterward for the Department of Health. The higher first-year cost is for information technology necessary to develop the statewide registry while annual costs will pay for three employees to enter data and a project manager to oversee the project.

“We most certainly have to do better,” Brooks said. “And that’s what this legislation does. It moves the ball forward. I have had conversation after conversation to the point of exhaustion with the Department of Health urging them to do more with the investment the taxpayers for Pennsylvania have made. Unfortunately those conversations are just not moving the ball forward.”

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