|controversial lyme bill passed, yay!
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|Author:||LisaS [ Sat Mar 28, 2009 2:18 pm ]|
|Post subject:||controversial lyme bill passed, yay!|
Controversial Lyme disease bill passed by legislative Public Health Committee
By Brian Lockhart Staff Writer
Updated: 03/26/2009 11:03:49 PM EDT
HARTFORD -- The Legislature's Public Health Committee unanimously passed a bill about tick- borne Lyme disease Thursday that could rock the health care industry if it becomes law.
"This is a huge message," state Rep. Kim Fawcett, D-Fairfield, the bill's sponsor, said after the panel approved the proposal without debate.
The proposal would validate the treatment of chronic Lyme disease in Connecticut. It clarifies to physicians, despite an opinion from the Infectious Disease Society of America that chronic Lyme disease does not exist, that they do have the right to diagnose and prescribe long- term antibiotics for the illness without fear of reprisal by the state.
"The thing that's important to us is we send a clear message, 'It's OK to go outside the Infectious Disease Society of America guidelines,'" said Fawcett, who is not a member of the health panel.
Discovered in the mid-1970s in Connecticut, Lyme disease is transmitted to humans by the bite of infected blacklegged ticks.
Symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue and a rash. If untreated, infection can spread to joints, the heart and the nervous system.
The commonly accepted treatment is up to 28 days of antibiotics. But some patients are convinced they suffer from chronic Lyme disease and need longer courses of antibiotic treatment.
But the Infectious Diseases Society, which in 2006 developed updated treatment guidelines for doctors, dismisses chronic Lyme disease as a myth.
"There are no convincing published scientific data that support the existence of chronic Lyme disease," Anne Gershon, president of the Virginia-based society, wrote lawmakers in February.
She wrote that the concept of chronic Lyme disease has been promoted by "a small group of physicians" but the dangers of long-term antibiotic therapy are well-documented and should not be encouraged by legislation like the bill passed by the committee Thursday.
State Rep. Jason Bartlett, D-Bethel, another bill sponsor who sits on the Public Health Committee, told colleagues Thursday the legislation would address the dueling "standards for practice" that have arisen over chronic Lyme disease.
"Because of these two disagreements the (Connecticut) Department of Public Health, we feel, has been biased towards the 28 days of antibiotics," Bartlett said.
He said the result is a "chill effect" on physicians who might otherwise be willing to diagnose and treat chronic Lyme disease.
Following a public hearing on the bill in early February, William Gerrish, a spokesman for the health department, said there is no state policy against long-term antibiotic treatment of Lyme disease.
Gerrish said state health officials are concerned the bill as written would strip the department of its ability to review complaints and violations, particularly in cases where the care being provided to a patient deviates from current, evidence-based practice.
No doctors offered testimony in February that they felt persecuted by the state health department for treating chronic Lyme disease.
But at the time, Matthew Katz, vice president of the Connecticut State Medical Society, confirmed there are concerns among physicians over the state's recent actions against Dr. Charles Ray Jones, a New Haven pediatrician renowned for treating chronic Lyme disease.
In December 2007, the state Medical Examining Board, responding to an investigation by the Department of Public Health, fined Jones $10,000 and put him on probation for two years for diagnosing children with Lyme disease and treating them with antibiotics before examining them.Jones is appealing the decision.
Katz said news coverage focused on the doctor's reputation as a last resort for those complaining of chronic Lyme disease.
"What appeared in the paper and on the news -- Lyme disease mistreatment -- it raised a lot of concerns," Katz said at the time.
Fawcett's bill states that as of July 1, 2009, the Medical Examining Board may not discipline a licensed physician "solely for" prescribing, administering and dispensing long-term antibiotic therapy to a patient clinically diagnosed with Lyme disease as documented in their medical records.
The State Medical Society backs the concept of the bill, but is not taking a position on the existence of chronic Lyme disease.
Gerrish said the Department of Public Health is still hoping to work with the health committee to "preserve our ability to conduct a thorough investigation to protect the public."That bill is perfect in our eyes," Fawcett said.
But Health Committee co-chairwoman state Rep. Betsy Ritter, D-Quaker Hill, told her colleagues before Thursday's vote the legislation may change before going to the full General Assembly.
"There will be "¦ at least a bit more work going on with this bill before we're finished," Ritter said.
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