H.R. 4701: Tick-Borne Disease Research Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014, or the Lyme Disease Bill as it’s being called by some, was passed by a voice vote in the US House of Representatives on September 9th, 2014. Introduced by Chris Gibson (R-New York) on the 21st of May this year, the bill was originally called the Vector-Borne Disease Research Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014 (HR 4701), but its name was amended after a 40 minute discussion and the bill is now to undergo consideration by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.
Cape Cod Representative, Bill Keating (D-Bourne), who is a member of the Lyme Disease Caucus in Congress, signed onto the bill on June 18th and has stated that he knows how devastating tick-borne disease are. This bill is, according to Keating, “a step in the right direction towards ensuring the best research is being done at the federal level to fight against Lyme disease.” In Canada, the House of Commons unanimously passed a Lyme disease bill back in June, 2014.
A Lyme Disease Agency
Should the bill be passed by Senate and signed by the President, it would require that the Department of Health and Human Services conduct and support research on tick disease. Such research would cost some $338 million dollars for the period from 2015 to 2019, with the 2015 budget of $24 million expanding to $88 million in 2019. Such cost calculations are based on the levels of spending currently laid out by the National Institute of Health for other tick-related diseases. The bill itself does not require an increase in spending, which is one of the key elements it seems to get a bill passed in the House.
How to get the US HoR to Pass a Bill
Failure to get a Lyme disease bill passed in 2012 was largely blamed on the fact that it required an increase in spending. Campaigners have been more savvy this time around and stopped attaching money to the bill. Instead, the bill requires the formation of an intra-agency, 14-member, permanent working group to report biennially back to Congress on strategy and progress in research. The hope is that such reporting will help disease specialists in creating a better evidence-based framework for attacking tick diseases like Lyme disease.
The bill itself is not solely focused on Lyme disease as numerous other tick-borne infections are targeted, including Rocky Mountain spotted fever, anaplasma, and babesiosis. However, the controversy surrounding the existence of Chronic Lyme disease, the discontinued Lyme disease vaccine, and the specificity and sensitivity of available Lyme disease testing have all contributed to this push for better recognition of the effects of this infection.
A 33% Chance of Success
The bill was sponsored by Republican Christopher Gibson, Representative for New York’s 19th congressional district, but the work to get it brought to the House was largely done by Bill Keating, a Democrat from Cape Cod, an area disproportionately affected by Lyme disease. Only around 23% of bills that made it past committee in 2011-2013 ended up being enacted, but the odds for this Lyme disease bill to be enacted are put at 33% on the govtrack website. The bill was cosponsored by 12 Democrats and 7 Republicans, but as it was passed by a voice vote this means that no record is available to see which members of the House voted for or against, or abstained. As Lyme disease sufferers are used to fighting the odds, the 33% chance of success perhaps isn’t quite as daunting as it seems.
“H.R. 4701–113th Congress: Tick-Borne Disease Research Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014.” www.GovTrack.us. 2014. September 24, 2014, https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/113/hr4701