2 bills on Lyme disease spark division
By Elizabeth Lynch
June 26, 2005
Two Lyme-related bills pending in Congress are sparking divergent responses from local and regional groups.
U.S. Rep. Sue Kelly, R-Katonah, and U.S. Rep. Christopher Smith, a Republican from Hamilton, N.J., each introduced bills.
The bills are similar, but Smith's bill includes more specific goals.
Both bills call for developing tests to diagnose Lyme and would create a committee to advise the secretary of Health and Human Services. Smith's bill calls for $100 million over five years, while Kelly's calls for $50 million.
Both bills have been referred to committees.
"In 18 years, I haven't seen this much excitement from Lyme groups everywhere," said Pat Smith, president of the Lyme Disease Association, a national organizations based in New Jersey. The group supports Smith's bill.
Local Lyme advocates say the Kelly bill is not as comprehensive as the Smith bill.
Lyme is a tick-borne disease spread when an infected tick bites an individual.
More than 23,000 cases were reported nationally in 2002, though the disease is greatly under-reported, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Symptoms include a bull's-eye rash, fever, malaise, fatigue, head-ache, muscle and joint aches. Lyme can be treated with antibiotics, but isn't always easy to diagnose.
The Lyme Disease Foundation in Connecticut supports Kelly's bill, while the Hudson Valley Lyme Disease Association supports Smith's bill.
"This is really what [Kelly's] constituents want," Jill Auerbach, chairwoman of the Hudson Valley Lyme Disease Association, said of her group's support of the Smith bill. "Only one bill is going to get through Congress, if any at all. We want a bill that will do something. [Smith's] bill will do something."
Kelly bill given better chances
But Tom Forschner, executive director of the Lyme Disease Foundation, said Kelly's bill has a better chance of passing both houses of Congress.
"We know we're not going to get $100 million for Lyme. It's ridiculous," Forschner said, referring to the amount
Smith's bill calls for. He said Smith's bill also directs some of the money to organizations that are not under government oversight.
Auerbach said she has asked members of Kelly's staff to urge the congresswoman to withdraw her bill and support Smith's proposal.
That's unlikely to happen said Kevin Callahan, Kelly's spokesman.
"Any bill that can get through to support Lyme is positive," Callahan said. He said Kelly is planning to co-sponsor Smith's bill and she hopes Smith will back her proposal.
Both bills call for an advisory panel, but
Smith's bill calls for the panel to include a "diversity of scientific perspectives" to ensure the membership includes doctors who believe Lyme, especially chronic
Lyme, is a difficult disease to diagnose and treat, supporters said.
Smith's bill "provides more potential for patient-care benefits," said Barbara Buchman, executive director of the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society in Maryland.
Elizabeth Lynch can be reached at [email protected]