February 11, 2013
There is a Lyme haze hanging over the 2013 General Assembly this session. Seldom does a Bill generate as much of an outpouring as SB971 and its companion Bill HB1933. The Bill has pitted the Lyme disease community against Virginia physicians in a controversy surrounding a patient’s right to receive information in a written disclosure pertaining to the inefficacy of Lyme antibody tests. The battle that has ensued has the Lyme Community crying “Foul!” and raises serious issues regarding the ability of politicians to remain neutral in the face of pressure from large lobbyists and campaign donors.
Senate Bill 971 was co-patroned by Senators Dick Black (R-13) and Janet Howell (D-32). Signaling bi-partisan support, both signed on to a bill that seeks to require that health care providers who order a Lyme test, distribute a disclosure sheet advising the patient that, in early infection, the test can yield false negative results. Witnesses quoted experts who report that the Lyme antibody tests can be wrong 71% of the time in early testing! Witnesses testified that their doctors failed to inform them of the possibility of false negatives and concluded that a negative result meant they could not have Lyme disease. This caused many patients to go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed for years. For many, it also rendered their disease incurable. Early diagnosis is key to a possible cure!
The hearings before the Senate were both moving and passionate. Senator Janet Howell stated, “My constituents are suffering from a plague we have in my district, in Reston where there are whole families affected by this.” Senator Thomas Garrett, Jr. (R-22) said, “I am loathe to tell doctors how to do their jobs, but there’s a problem….people are getting sick and people are dying.” He shared the story of his 4 year old nephew who became afflicted after his pediatrician advised his sister that there is no Lyme in Virginia.
Senator Jill Vogel (R-27) reported that, “Loudoun, Fairfax and Fauquier Counties have been ravaged by Lyme.” She went on to relate how her family had been personally affected. Committee Chairman Senator Steve Martin (R-11) said that he was moved by the testimony and that the situation cried out for action. The Bill passed the Senate with relative ease.
House Bill 1933, the mirror image of the Senate Bill, co-patroned by Delegates Barbara Comstock (R-34) and Tom Rust (R-86), met a vastly different result. Sent directly to a Health, Welfare and Institutions sub-committee comprised largely of physicians, and following nearly identical testimony, the physician members substituted a bill that bore no resemblance to the original. The Lyme community present at that hearing was refused the opportunity to address the substitute Bill.
The doctors insist the substitute, is necessary to prevent government interference with the physician/patient relationship. The patient community is outraged that the physician lobby would maneuver to prevent sharing with the patient the very information they receive on their lab test results; information critical to patient informed health care decision making. Lyme patients believe the best time to communicate that information is in the physician’s office, when it would be useful for consultation within the confidential physician/patient relationship.
Lyme patients from across the Commonwealth believe that instead of representing the people they are charged to serve, these Delegate/doctors sitting on the Health, Welfare and Institutions sub-committee donned their Lab coats and stethoscopes to represent only their self interests and those of the Virginia Medical Society.
The National Capital Lyme Disease Association is an organization with over 3,000 members, including fifteen chapters throughout the District of Columbia, Virginia, Maryland, and North Carolina.
Early symptoms of Lyme disease may include headache, stiff neck, fever, muscle aches, and fatigue. If left untreated or treatment is delayed, the disease can become chronic with serious, debilitating complications. A few examples include: joint pain and swelling, heart disease; neurological problems such as Bell’s palsy, dizziness, irritability, ADHD-like symptoms, cognitive dysfunction, muscle weakness and neuropathy.
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For more information about Lyme disease, please contact Monte Skall at 703-821-8822 or visit the NatCapLyme website at http://www.natcaplyme.local/