U.S. Sens. Smith & Collins’ Bipartisan Kay Hagan Tick Act Moves Forward in Senate

WASHINGTON, D.C. [10/31/19]—Today, the Senate Health Committee voted to move forward bipartisan legislation introduced by U.S. Senators Tina Smith (D-Minn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) that aims to improve research, prevention, diagnostics and treatment for tick-borne diseases. Their bill now heads to the floor for full consideration by the Senate.

The Kay Hagan Tick Act unites the effort to confront the alarming public health threat posed by Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases, which have risen exponentially from approximately 30,000 cases in 2003 to an estimated 450,000 last year. The bill was renamed in honor of former Senator Kay Hagan, who recently passed away due to complications from the tick-borne disease known as the Powassan virus.

Far too many Americans with Lyme disease experience months or even years identifying their illness and receiving a diagnosis, all while suffering severe and debilitating symptoms. In addition to the physical and emotional toll that Lyme disease takes, the medical costs of Lyme disease are estimated at $1.3 billion per year. When accounting for indirect medical costs, including loss of work, the annual costs balloon to $75 billion per year.

“Minnesotans enjoy spending time outside exploring our state parks, swimming and boating in our lakes, and hiking in our forests,” said Sen. Smith. “Unfortunately, the number of Lyme disease cases in the state—and states across the country—is on the rise. I’m glad that our bipartisan bill to address this problem cleared the Senate Health Committee today, bringing it one step closer to becoming law. For the sake of Americans’ health and well-being, we need to keep moving this bill forward.”

“I want to express my condolences to the family of our former colleague and friend, Senator Kay Hagan, who passed away this week from complications of the Powassan virus. It is the same tick-borne disease that took the life of Maine artist Lyn Snow in 2013,” said Sen. Collins. “Tick-borne diseases like Lyme have become a major public health concern, with the incidence exploding over the past 15 years.  The Tick Act takes a comprehensive approach to address Lyme and other tick and vector-borne diseases.  I am pleased that our bipartisan bill was approved by the Senate Health Committee today, and I urge all of my colleagues to support this important legislation to reverse this burgeoning public health crisis.”

“Maine summers bring sunshine, hiking, and fresh blueberries – but unfortunately, they also bring ticks, and the diseases these parasites spread,” said Sen. King. “This leaves Maine people more vulnerable to tick-borne illnesses – especially Lyme disease, which has drastically climbed in recent years. We need a coordinated and aggressive response from all levels of government and the private sector to make a dent in the rapid rise of this disease. The HELP Committee’s passage of this legislation is an important step in that fight, and I’ll keep working with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to address this public health challenge.”

“Several of the bills we are moving forward today will help us better understand and address the public health challenges that we face to keep our families safe, like the Tick Act—which I want to thank Senator Collins and Senator Smith,” Sen. Patty Murray, the Ranking Member of the Health Committee, said at today’s hearing. “They have been great leaders on this, and this is a bill, as they will describe to you, that will create a national strategy and take other important steps to address vector borne diseases like Lyme disease.”

“I was misdiagnosed by 23 doctors and specialists to the tune of $250,000 before getting an official diagnosis and proper treatment,” said Paula Jackson Jones, President and Co-Founder of Midcoast Lyme Disease Support & Education. “Enacting the Tick Act that Senator Collins introduced will provide a lifeline not only to patients but to medical providers. With funding available for research and education, we can get medical providers on the same page not only with improved diagnostic tools but better, more effective treatment options for their patients. With the Tick Act, and Senator Collins’ support in Washington, we can stem the growing threat of tick-borne disease.”

“Lyme is a frustrating and debilitating disease, but it’s a problem we can solve,” said Bonnie Crater, co-founder and board member at Center for Lyme Action. “What is needed is dedicated and sustained effort by the federal government to address this growing public health threat.  The Tick Act is a wonderful first step and is supported by more than 50 Lyme foundations and associations around the United States.” 

Using a three-pronged approach, the Kay Hagan Tick Act would:

1. Require the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to develop a National Strategy. This would help expand research, improve testing and testing, and coordinate common efforts with DOD, USDA, EPA, the VA, and the Departments of Interior and Homeland Security. 

2. Reauthorize Regional Centers of Excellence in Vector-Borne Disease for five years at $10 million per year. Funding for these centers, which was allotted in 2017, expires in 2021. These Centers have led the scientific response against tick-borne diseases, which now make up 75 percent of vector-borne diseases in the U.S.  There are five centers located at universities in New York, California, Florida, Texas, and Wisconsin.  

3. Authorize CDC Grants at $20 million per year that would be awarded to State Health Departments to improve data collection and analysis, support early detection and diagnosis, improve treatment, and raise awareness. These awards would help states build a public health infrastructure for Lyme and other vector-borne diseases and amplify their initiatives through public-private partnerships.   

The Tick Act is supported by more than 155 organizations, including the Entomological Society of America, National Association of Vector-Borne Disease Control Officials, the National Association of County and City Health Officials, Midcoast Lyme Disease Support & Education Organization in Maine, the Northeast Regional Center for Excellence in Vector Borne Diseases, and the LivLyme Foundation. 

Sens. Smith and Collins’ Kay Hagan Tick Act is cosponsored by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Mike Braun (R-Ind.), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.V.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), Angus King (I-Maine), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).