On Thursday, the Governor of Massachusetts, Charlie Baker, has vetoed a bill that would have required health insurance companies to cover a controversial long-term treatment for Lyme disease. In its place, the governor decided to file an alternative bill that guarantees coverage only of ‘clinically proven treatments’ of the disease.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Lyme is a disease transmitted to humans by ticks. Its usual symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue and a rash. Most cases of Lyme disease can be treated with a few weeks of antibiotics.
Governor Baker has stated that although he supports comprehensive coverage and access to Lyme disease treatment, there needs to be a consensus on what that treatment should be.
“There is considerable uncertainty in the medical community, however, as to the clinical effectiveness and the safety of long-term antibiotic therapies to treat this illness. Further, requiring coverage of experimental drugs for off-label use sets a concerning precedent.”
The bill managed to get strong support in the state legislature, from patients and their advocates, but was opposed by health insurers and infectious disease doctors. Similar bills were passed in states like Rhode Island and Connecticut. If lawmakers can get a two-thirds vote, they can override the veto.
The governor’s alternative bill would require the Executive Office of Health and Human Services to establish ‘listening sessions’ in order to obtain public feedback on what the appropriate treatment for Lyme disease is. After a period of six months, MassHealth, the state’s Medicaid program, would need to revise the set of benefits available to members in need of the treatment that was previously established to be appropriate in the public hearings. After nine months, health insurance companies would be required to offer comparable coverage.
In his letter to the lawmakers after the veto of the initial bill, he stated that:
“This requirement will eliminate any arbitrary restrictions on coverage and ensure that persons needing treatment for Lyme disease have access to safe, effective, and clinically approved treatments.”
Have you ever been affected by Lyme disease or know anyone who has? How was the disease treated?
Image source: Wikipedia