STATE HOUSE – The House today passed a bill to permanently require health insurers in Rhode Island to cover long-term antibiotic treatment for Lyme disease.
“Antibiotic treatment is very effective in the early stages of the disease,” said Sen. Michael J. Damiani (D-Dist. 18), the bill’s main sponsor. “It’s also the only viable treatment in advanced Lyme disease cases, allowing people to lead normal, symptom-free lives. It’s imperative that health insurers continue to offer it to their subscribers.”
The bill repeals a sunset provision that was placed on last year’s bill, which Senator Damiani also sponsored. The law requires every individual or group hospital or medical expense insurance policy or individual or group hospital or medical service plan to provide for long-term Lyme disease treatment. The treatment usually consists of four weeks of intravenous antibiotic treatment, which many health insurance companies felt was unproven and experimental.
For many patients, however, it is often the only treatment that works once the disease had advanced.
The law is set to expire December 31.
However, this year’s bill (2004-S 2939) removes that expiration date to make mandatory Lyme disease health insurance coverage a permanent requirement for Rhode Island insurers.
In 2002, 23,763 cases of Lyme disease were reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Ninety-five percent of these cases were from 12 states, including Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Hampshire.
“Early diagnosis and proper antibiotic treatment of Lyme disease are important strategies to avoid the costs and complications of infection and late-stage illness,” said Senator Damiani. “Now that tick season is upon us, I urge all Rhode Islanders to learn all they can about this debilitating disease and protect themselves in any way they can.”
Co-sponsors of the bill include Sen. Joseph M. Polisena (D-Dist. 25) of Johnston, Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski (D-Dist. 37) of South Kingstown and New Shoreham, Sen. Kevin A. Breene (R-Dist. 34) of Charlestown, Exeter, Hopkinton, Richmond and West Greenwich, and Sen. Daniel DaPonte (D-Dist. 14) of East Providence. The Senate is scheduled to hear a similar bill (2004-H 7240) tomorrow sponsored by Rep. Raymond E. Gallison Jr. (D-Dist. 69) of Bristol and Portsmouth.
The bill will soon be transmitted to the governor for his signature.