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Gov. Baker Vetoes Lyme Disease Mandate Bill, Proposes 'Listening Session'

(Macroscopic Solutions/Flickr)
(Macroscopic Solutions/Flickr)
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Gov. Charlie Baker has vetoed a bill that would require health insurers to cover long-term antibiotic treatments for Lyme disease, his office says, and is instead proposing "compromise legislation" that would include a state-convened "listening session" on Lyme disease treatment.

The bill had drawn strong support in the Legislature and from patients and their advocates, but strong opposition from health insurers and infectious disease doctors. Rhode Island and Connecticut have passed similar bills.

From the veto letter:

I support comprehensive coverage and access to Lyme disease treatment. There is considerable uncertainty in the medical community, however, as to the clinical effectiveness and the safety of long-term antibiotic therapies to treat this illness. Further, requiring coverage of experimental drugs for off-label use sets a concerning precedent. We should only be mandating coverage for evidence-based therapies that have proven to be clinically effective, whether we are considering the treatment of Lyme disease or any other medical disease or condition. My objections to the proposed legislation should not be mistaken for a lack of concern that persons suffering from Lyme disease receive access to proper medical treatment.

And from the letter filing the new bill:

The bill I am filing would require private health insurance companies, nonprofit hospital service corporations, medical service corporations, and health maintenance organizations to cover the costs of medically appropriate and clinically proven treatments for Lyme disease. To do so, the bill requires that these entities provide coverage for Lyme disease treatment equal to the coverage that MassHealth now provides to its members. This requirement will eliminate any arbitrary restrictions on coverage and ensure that persons needing treatment for Lyme disease have access to safe, effective, and clinically approved treatments.”

The bill also requires the state's Executive Office of Health and Human Services to convene "a public listening session to solicit feedback on the appropriate forms of treatment for Lyme Disease," Baker's office says.

Listen to Radio Boston's discussion of the controversial bill here. The legislative session is scheduled to last until Sunday night, and previous votes suggest an override of the governor's veto would likely pass.

Carey Goldberg Twitter Editor, CommonHealth
Carey Goldberg is the editor of WBUR's CommonHealth section.

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