As the number of people diagnosed with Lyme Disease continues to grow across West Virginia, legislators are stepping up to make a change.
When driving through the Mountain State it’s hard not to miss the miles of wooded areas, but with beauty comes bacteria transmitted by ticks.
“You have to kill the bacteria. Otherwise, it’s going to try to kill you, slowly and painfully,” said Lyme Disease activist and Berkeley Springs resident, Eric Pritchard.
With a new law passed during the 2018 legislative session, insurance companies can no longer deny West Virginians coverage for Lyme Disease treatment.
“If the doctors indicate that it would be beneficial and necessary for the patient, then the insurance companies have to pay for it,” said Sen. Charles Trump (R-Morgan).
That includes detection tests, long-term antibiotic therapy and more.
With the help of local legislators, the bill was championed by Eric and Linda Pritchard, a Berkeley Springs couple with a personal connection to the disease.
“I have a dear friend that had Lyme Disease,” Linda said. “She was undiagnosed for nine years, and she suffered terribly.”
They saw first-hand how tedious and exhausting the treatment process is for someone fighting Lyme Disease.
After a bill is passed in the West Virginia legislature, it must be in effect 90 days later, which means part of SB 242 went into effect on June 6.
Also stated in the law: “any insurer who, on or after January 1, 2019, delivers or issues a policy of accident and sickness insurance in this state under the provisions of this article shall make available as benefits to all subscribers.”
“There is treatment out there, and so for an insurance company to say, ‘no, we’re not going to cover this because it’s a six-month antibiotic treatment,’ well, that doesn’t make sense,” said co-sponsor of the bill, Sen. Craig Blair (R-Berkeley).
Humans are most commonly infected through bites of ticks called nymphs. They’re about 2 millimeters in size, so you would need nine of them in a row just to make up the size of a dime.
“You can have muscle problems, heart problems. It can go into your brain and give you problems there,” Eric Pritchard said.
“It leaves the ultimate decisions where they should be – with the doctors,” Sen. Trump said. “Not with the insurance companies, but with a patient and his doctor as to what’s the appropriate course of treatment for someone who’s under a doctor’s care.”
That’s good news for those like Linda’s friend, who were changed by the aftermath of a tick bite.
“There were some people who spent their entire savings, their entire retirement and they still weren’t fixed,” Linda Pritchard said. “And that’s a huge burden on a family.”