By PAMELA WOOD, Staff Writer (The Capital, Annapolis, Md.)
One by one, they nervously approached the microphone to list their symptoms: extreme fatigue, aches, blurred vision, balance problems, difficulty speaking. Then the misdiagnoses: fibromyalgia, depression, chronic fatigue syndrome, Lou Gehrig’s disease.
But the more than two dozen people who testified before a state Senate committee Thursday all finally found the cause of their troubles was Lyme disease, a troubling illness spread by deer ticks.
They were among more than 100 patients and relatives who packed a hearing room to show their support for a bill they say would improve treatment of Lyme disease in the state.
“Patients are too sick to fight with their doctors for treatment,” said Lucy Barnes, a Lyme disease patient and activist from Queenstown.
The Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee is considering a bill that would require insurance companies to pay for long-term antibiotic treatment for Lyme disease. Some only pay for a few weeks of medication, even though some patients say they need months or years of antibiotics.
The bill, SB596, also would prevent the Board of Physicians from disciplining a doctor for prescribing long-term drugs. Bill advocates say some doctors are scared to try long-term therapy for patients for fear of losing their license.
“It is time the state begins to recognize the impact of this horrible disease,” said Sen. Richard F. Colburn, R-Dorchester, the lead sponsor of the bill.
Insurance industry reps were signed up to testify but were no-shows.
While most of the bill supporters who turned out for the hearing were from the Eastern Shore, Lyme disease is a concern in Anne Arundel County as well.
Anne Arundel, Maryland’s sprawling suburban neighborhoods provide ideal habitat for deer, and in turn, the deer tick that carries the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. According to the county Health Department, there were 77 confirmed cases of Lyme disease in 2003, and 66 cases in 2002. Statistics from 2004 weren’t available.
By some estimates, there are 10 undiagnosed cases for every confirmed case.
Patients said they have a hard time getting an accurate diagnosis, besides having problems getting treated and covered by insurance. Lyme disease tests often show false negatives, and doctors are reluctant to treat Lyme disease without a positive test in hand, they said.
“It is very, very hard to figure out whether people have Lyme disease or not,” said Sen. James Brochin, D-Baltimore County, who said he still has lingering effects of the Lyme disease he contracted 17 years ago.
And while committee members seemed moved by the testimony and strong turnout, some balked at the idea of telling the Board of Physicians how to police doctors for one specific illness.
“We’re not in the business of directing protocol for doctors,” said Sen. Roy P. Dyson, R-St. Mary’s.
C. Irving Pinder Jr., director of the Board of Physicians, said he couldn’t find a single case where a doctor was investigated for overprescribing antibiotics for Lyme disease.
“It sounds like what we need is education and training,” he said.
The committee chairman, Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, D-Baltimore County, said she wants to find a better way to help Lyme disease patients.
“We’ll try and attack it through legislation, but I’m not sure it will be exactly this bill,” she said.
The House of Delegates is considering a separate proposal, HB1323, which would establish a state Lyme disease task force.
Published March 12, 2005, The Capital, Annapolis, Md.
Copyright © 2005 The Capital, Annapolis, Md.