The Lyme Bill: Fact & Fiction

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Background
The passage of the amendment to 21st Century Cures Act by the House is a big step forward for the Lyme community. Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions, half-truths, and outright fabrications surrounding it and its passage.

The facts are, like it or not, the government agencies do oversee and control different areas of our life, including health care. CDC and NIH under Health & Human Services are the 2 agencies we are usually concerned about. They define disease, have great influence over treatment, prevention, and research. To move forward, we need to influence what those bodies do through legislation and other policy decisions.

Existent Working Group & Beginning of 21st Century Cures
For several years, there already has been a working group in DC on Lyme disease. Shocked? Yes, folks, a working group. Is anyone sitting on it from the Lyme community? No. Are they all federal officials? Yes. Are their deliberations public? No. Are they influencing Lyme & TBD? Yes. To combat that, we had to get a bill passed. We worked with Congressman Chris Smith for years then also with Congressman Chris Gibson to do just that several years ago. Did the agencies want it? No. Did IDSA want it? No. We were in intense negotiations then with Congress, and they even pulled a last minute switch in bills which we fought to overcome with the help of the Lyme community and were successful, resulting in passage by the House of the Gibson bill in 21st Century Cures, a huge health care initiative.

Senate on Cures
The Senate did not want to pass the House version of Cures, so it decided to write its own bill, with no or vastly altered Lyme language, that was unclear. Many of us fought to support the Senate Blumenthal bill, which was a similar bill to a prior Chris Smith bill in the House. The hope was that language would be then used in the Senate version of Cures bill. The Senate HELP Committee would not schedule it for a vote, but the House & Senate both wanted a “21st Century Cures” type legislation to pass, as the contents were popular among constituents. So Senate and House worked behind the scenes and drew up a compromise, an amendment to the previously passed House Cures bill, which the House would first vote on, then the Senate.

House on Cures
The House, without our knowledge, altered the Lyme language inside the amendment to where it was harmful to the Lyme community. Thanks to some quick action on the part of some advocates who found out on Sunday, the 27th, a number of Lyme leaders who had worked on this issue before, got together immediately on a phone call, assessed the issue and voted to try to get the House to pull out the harmful language. Some of us put out letters to the appropriate individuals in Congress we felt could influence the outcome. LDA and some others wrote to Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and expressed our concerns and said we wanted the language removed. They understood our concerns.

Negotiations Process
Those letters led to Sunday and Monday negotiations. Now do not let that word fool you. Despite the misinformation on the internet intended to disrupt the process, LDA did not hire a lobbyist for $250,000, or for any amount of money. LDA is all-volunteer run and consists of patients and families of patients. Our monies primarily go to education, prevention and research efforts, and you can find much on the LDA website showing what we have accomplished. The negotiations were done with our own Lyme people. They were intense. There is a faction of Congress that does not want to deal with Lyme, it is an anathema. They would rather ignore it, or pay lip service, or are influenced by certain groups– Guess who? Some have loyalty to the agencies, who do not want this Lyme bill at all. Any irresponsible actions of Lyme patients or advocates are noted and used against the Lyme community. By being credible, we have begun to break that cycle. We are factual, we are organized, we are not irresponsible.

We fought intensely over the 2-day period to get as much of the language back in as possible, and at one point, they would not budge on a word that was significant and we said, OK, no deal, but they would not remove the bad language. We were at impasse. I reminded them the Cures Act they voted in a year ago contained very similar language. They changed their decision, and agreed to the necessary language. Because we had gotten the main tenets of the good language back, it was a victory. In summary, we would have had very bad Tick-Borne Diseases Working Group language for patients, no patients on panel, no categories of individuals, no different views. Those were put back in the bill.

Another Fiction
To address those online who said the language was “hidden,” when you negotiate up to the time the final language had to go to the Rules Committee, the government takes an inordinate amount of time to post that language. When they do, it is hard to find, even when you know where to look. We had 6 iterations of changes during our negotiations, did we see them and have them yes, but they were in formats that are not official, the corrections are there like in the track changes program, and they have not been put into form by Rules, so not official language. Therefore, we could not release that and could not even send you to the Rules’ site as it did not have that language but had the old, bad one. Last night, Rules posted the changes, and we have had the link on our website, where anyone could find it. But it was in the Amendment and thus was in a format that said “strike xxx line 47” etc. Not very useful.

Summary
Bottom line, they offered us lemons, we made lemonade. Not as sweet as we would like it, but it replaced something that yes, IDSA, and the agencies would have loved: no list of categories, no diversity of views, no FACA, which means transparency and accountability. Would we have liked more? Yes. Would we have had the Lyme provision removed if we could have and started from scratch in the future? Yes, but that was not an option. What we got was good. Plus we have several champions in the upcoming Congress who will be helping us to ensure we can make the best of this language, if it passes, in the Senate.

Last internet misstatement I will correct is that Chris Gibson was opposed to this action and told us not to do it. Mr. Gibson, who is leaving Congress, called me after the negotiations was complete to thank us for putting back the heart of the bill for the benefit of Lyme patients, and he has some ideas for Lyme which he has asked for our cooperation with, and he spoke on the floor of the House today in favor of the bill, and specifically, the Lyme provision, as did Congressman Smith, where the bill passed 392-26. On to the Senate. Click here for Cures Passage Article

So the next time someone writes one of these outrageous claims, ask them to back it up. And if the same person(s) continue to make claims, perhaps you need to find other more credible sources for you information.

Information on the history of the bill action going back years is documented on the LDA website LymeDiseaseAssociation.org and also Lymedisease.org, two groups which have spent years fighting for the rights of patients.

As soon as the official language is published, we will post a link to it.

Pat Smith, President, LDA