From the office of Congressman Bill Keating:
Washington, DC – Last night, Congressman Bill Keating’s amendment to procure funds for tick-borne illnesses was included in the National Defense Authorization Act, which passed the US House of Representatives today.
The Keating Amendment specifically gives the Department of Defense (DOD) the authority to partner with medical researchers and universities to test for all tick-borne diseases. The Army Public Health Center has operated a basic tick testing program for nearly 30 years. Through this program, military personnel can access tick identification services through military health care facilities at no charge. However, the tests provided by this program are limited to only six tick-borne diseases, whereas the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and DOD have now identified sixteen different diseases, some of which can be fatal. The Keating Amendment expands DOD testing to all known tick-borne diseases.
The Keating Amendment also allows the DOD to grant money to universities to do tick testing at a lower cost to the public. Currently, if a member of the public removes a tick from himself or herself and wants to have it tested for tick-borne diseases, it costs—at minimum—$50.
In his speech on the House Floor in support of his amendment, Congressman Keating said:
“According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 30,000 cases of Lyme disease are reported each year. However, additional CDC research reveals the actual number of diagnoses could be as high as 300,000. And alarmingly, nearly 20 percent of people surveyed in areas with high incidence rates of Lyme disease were unaware that the disease was even a risk.
“This issue is of particular concern in my region. According to the Massachusetts Department of Public health, my district includes the counties with the five highest rates of Lyme disease in the Commonwealth, including Barnstable County, home to Joint Base Cape Cod.
“However, my region is not alone on this issue. Ticks carrying dangerous diseases can be found in all corners of the continental United States—from Massachusetts in the North to Texas in the South; from Pennsylvania in the East to California in the West. Our service members are especially vulnerable as they are frequently exposed to heavily tick-infested areas.
“For example, the Powassan virus is a serious tick-borne illness known to cause encephalitis, meningitis, and even death. Multiple cases of Powassan have already been reported in Massachusetts this year, yet the DOD tick testing program does not include a test for the Powassan virus.
“Mr. Speaker, I realize there is concern that amendments to this legislation might lead to a Defense Health Program pushed beyond its capacity. That is not the case here. The military tick testing program already exists. This amendment would necessarily help DOD modernize the existing program to meet new challenges in the field of tick-borne disease. Indeed, the DOD’s own website informs us that emerging tick-borne diseases are being discovered all the time, and that yearly cases of known tick-borne diseases have been increasing steadily for years.
“We are fortunate to have experts already working to combat the rise in tick-borne disease. My amendment would facilitate collaboration among these experts and DOD to test more tick samples for more diseases, meet the growing needs of our military, and ultimately lead to better health outcomes.
“I want to thank my colleague from Pennsylvania, Mr. Thompson, for joining me as a cosponsor of this amendment. Pennsylvania is among the states in the Mid-Atlantic region experiencing drastic increases in the incidence of tick-borne illnesses, and the hope is our efforts today on the Floor—and by the Secretary of Defense in the next Fiscal Year—will help save lives.
“Thank you to Chairman Thornberry for his work on this important legislation as well. I urge my colleagues to join me in support of this amendment, and I reserve the balance of my time.”
The Keating Amendment is the Congressman’s latest effort to combat the rise in tick-borne illnesses. Just last month, he authored and introduced H.R. 2894, the Tick-Borne Disease Prevention Act. This legislation would direct the CDC to publish two sets of materials specific to Lyme disease and tick-borne illnesses. The first would update prevention and treatment procedures for both providers and the public. The second includes training materials for healthcare providers.
Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses often present with symptoms that can be incorrectly attributed to other ailments, resulting in misdiagnoses. The Tick-Borne Disease Prevention Act would ensure the CDC publishes guidelines that help Americans understand the risks, know which questions to ask, and ensure they spot tick-borne disease symptoms as quickly as possible.