Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Lyme Disease Epidemic Causing Healthcare Crisis

(BUSINESS WIRE)--An ongoing battle over the diagnosis and treatment of Lyme disease, a tick-borne illness, is pitting doctors against doctors, prompting health insurance companies to deny medical claims at an alarming rate, and leaving suffering patients stuck in the middle.

Transmitted through the bite of a tick, the number of Lyme disease cases in the United States has doubled since 1991—with at least 27,000 new cases reported each year. But because of inaccurate tests and under-reporting the actual numbers may be up to 12 times higher, according to the CDC, making Lyme disease an epidemic larger than AIDS, West Nile Virus and Avian Flu combined.

Tens of thousands of people suffer from what they say are the debilitating effects of chronic Lyme disease, which can lead to lifelong disabilities or even death. Yet many doctors deny that such a disease even exists, and doctors willing to treat it using long-term antibiotic therapy have faced losing their medical licenses.

The award-winning documentary Under Our Skin takes an unflinching look at the controversy surrounding Lyme disease and its impact on the national healthcare system, with billions of dollars of insurance claims, doctors’ medical licenses and patients’ lives hanging in the balance.

The implications are staggering. Irwin Vanderhoof, PhD professor at the New York University Stern School of Business, in 1993 estimated that Lyme disease cost society nearly $1billion per year. That estimate has since skyrocketed to about $2billion per year, including diagnosis, treatment, and lost wages, according to Contingencies, an actuarial trade publication for the insurance industry.

“Given the CDC’s admitted underreporting bias, the ultimate cost to society may prove to be even more alarming,” said Dr. Joseph Jemsek, a Charlotte-area physician featured in Under Our Skin. “The cost in lives unfulfilled by an illness that today’s medical profession refuses to acknowledge is incalculable.”

In a landmark prosecution announced last year, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal brought charges against the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) for abuse of Lyme disease treatment guidelines and conflicts of interest for guideline committee members. In response, the IDSA agreed to restructure its committee and revise its controversial Lyme Disease Guidelines. Meanwhile, as shown in Under Our Skin, patients continue to suffer through misdiagnosis while seeking treatment for a disease they’re often told is just in their heads.

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