BOSTON - Lyme disease patients who suffer chronic symptoms look to long-term antibiotics for help, but often they lose support of insurers who are only willing to pay for short-term treatment.
Rep. Theodore Speliotis, D-Danvers, has tried for nearly a decade to press insurance companies to pay. But his bill requiring coverage for antibiotics prescribed by a physician has languished under opposition from the healthcare industry.
The Lyme disease bill got a major endorsement this week from a state financial panel that concluded the cost of extending coverage would be minimal to the state and insurers. It still must be approved by the Legislature.
“Lyme disease is often misdiagnosed and many people suffer for very long periods of time before they are diagnosed and treated properly,” said Speliotis. “But our current laws fall short in ensuring that people get covered for the long-term treatment they need.”
The medical community recognizes Lyme disease, but opinion diverges over whether it persists for more than a few weeks after an initial round of antibiotics. Chief among the skeptics is the Massachusetts Association of Health Plans, representing insurers.
“From a clinical standpoint, there is no scientific evidence to support the diagnosis of chronic Lyme disease,” said Eric Linzer, a spokesman for the association. “There’s simply no evidence that the prolonged use of antibiotics will lead to better outcomes for patients. It’s just bad medicine.”
Most companies limit coverage of antibiotics to a 28-day period.
Linzer said the costs of state and federally mandated healthcare coverage weigh heavily on employers, and those costs increase because of government-mandated benefits.
The state’s insurers follow guidelines from the American College of Rheumatology, he said. It recommends against long-term antibiotics for Lyme disease, citing worries about overuse of antibiotics among other public health concerns.