By Shimmy Blum
A groundbreaking meeting was held on Monday afternoon in Trenton between the Life for Lyme organization, a division of the Orthodox Jewish Chamber of Commerce (www.OjChamber.com), and the highest ranking officials at the New Jersey Department of Health regarding the pressing need for the State to enhance its legal protections and services for residents suffering from Lyme Disease and related diseases.
The Life for Lyme delegation was led by Duvi Honig, Founder and CEO of the Orthodox Jewish Chamber of Commerce, who delivered an extensive PowerPoint presentation to Commissioner Shereef M. Elnahal, M.D., M.B.A.; Deputy Commissioner Jackie Cornell; Christina Tan, M.D., MPH, Assistant Commissioner of Epidemiology, Environmental and Occupational Health; and Kimberly Cervantes, MA, MPH, CIC. Governor Phil Murphy was intimately involved in arranging and following up on the meeting, stressing his reverence for the work of the Orthodox Jewish Chamber of Commerce and Life for Lyme, and his commitment to make tangible progress on these issues.
Duvi stressed to the health officials the severe human toll that the diseases and related hardships take on patients and their families. Insurance companies often do not cover necessary treatments, leaving patients with as much as $100,000 a year or more in out-of-pocket medical expenditures. One frum family suffering from Lyme Disease is seriously contemplating sending their children to public school, since the strain of medical expenses left them unable to pay tuition. The State suffers financially as well from long term disability, medical costs and economic nonproductivity resulting from mistreatment of Lyme Disease and related diseases.
Life for Lyme explained why, compared to most other diseases, the diagnosis of Lyme Disease and related diseases is extremely complex. As these bacteria attack various bodily organs, there are many potential physical – and even emotional – Lyme symptoms that seem unrelated to the disease. Additionally, conventional tests often produce inaccurate results. Treatment regimens, especially when the disease is caught late, are oftenvery difficult and lengthy. Many physicians, including specialists, are not adequately aware of the relevant diagnosis, symptom and treatment options – leading to many misdiagnoses.
Item one on the agenda to remedy the heartbreaking circumstances for patients and their families is legislation that would mandate insurers to cover necessary physician visits, tests and treatment of Lyme Disease and related diseases. This legislation was introduced in the State Assembly as bill A678, but it currently remains stuck in the Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee. This is unfortunate, as New Jersey remains the only one among the top thirteen Lyme states that does not have such protections enshrined in law. Life for Lyme activists are aggressively lobbying that the bill should be brought to the Assembly floor for a vote, as well as that similar legislation should be introduced on the floor of the State Senate.
They have launched a campaign urging the public to make their voices heard by the legislators key to the bill’s passage. The public is urged to contact Assemblyman John McKeon at 973-377-1606 or firstname.lastname@example.org, and Senator Joe Vitale at 732-855-7441, and implore swift implementation of this legislation.
In addition to legislative end, the health officials vowed to work with Life for Lyme on an array of projects, including educating medical professionals and the general public about Lyme Disease and related diseases, as well as working on various forms of prevention.
Excited about the historic progress on the horizon, Duviexpresses admiration of all the parties involved. “Governor Murphy and the leadership of the New Jersey Health Department have their finger on the pulse of residents’ concerns and are genuinely determined to make a difference,” he says. “Last but not least, the dedication and professionalism of Life for Lyme’s leaders, volunteers and partners have been indispensable in these efforts. I am confident that with continued cooperation, New Jersey is about to turn to a new page.”
For more information about Life for Lyme and its activities, please visit www.lifeforlyme.org.