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Insurance claims related to Lyme disease up by 117 percent in U.S.

By Brian P. Dunleavy
Insurance claims related to Lyme disease up by 117 percent in U.S.
The number of insurance claim lines for Lyme disease increased in the U.S. by 117 percent between 2007 and 2018. File Photo by Roman Prokhorov/Shutterstock

Dec. 10 (UPI) -- More and more Americans are receiving treatment for Lyme disease, according to an analysis of healthcare insurance claims data published Tuesday -- with the biggest increases coming from residents of urban areas.

The analysis released by FAIR Health, a national, independent nonprofit organization focused on transparency in health insurance information, is based on data from the group's repository of more than 29 billion private healthcare claim records, which is the largest in the United States.

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Researchers found that overall insurance claim lines related to Lyme disease, a bacterial infection transmitted through the bite of black-legged ticks, increased by 117 percent across the country between 2007 and 2018, the most recent year for which data are available.

"FAIR Health is pleased to use our unequaled data repository to help fill the gaps in knowledge about Lyme disease," FAIR Health President Robin Gelburd said in a statement. "Our study provides a foundation to advance the work of other researchers."

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FAIR defines "claim lines" as the individual procedures or services listed on an insurance claim.

Historically, Lyme disease has been associated more with rural than urban areas, and particularly with the northeastern United States. However, the FAIR analysis found that in urban areas, insurance claim lines increased by 121 percent over the 12-year study period, compared to 105 percent in rural areas.

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FAIR attributed this difference in part to people seeking care for the disease in or around their homes or work -- even if they contracted the disease while in a rural setting.

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Work on the analysis began as part of an invited presentation to the Congressional Tick-Borne Disease Working Group's Subcommittee on Training, Education, Access to Care and Reimbursement, FAIR said. Congress established the Tick-Borne Disease Working Group with the passage of the 21st Century Cures Act in 2016.

In other notable findings, the analysis revealed that Lyme disease accounted for 94 percent of all insurance claim lines for tick-borne diseases in 2018.

States in the northeast -- Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island -- had the highest number of claim lines with Lyme disease diagnoses as a percentage of all medical claim lines by state -- but North Carolina, in the south, was high on the list as well.

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FAIR also found that in 2018, in both rural and urban areas, adults between 51 and 60 years of age had the largest share of claim lines related to Lyme disease diagnoses, with those between 41 and 50 years of age next. In 2018, July was the month with the highest share of claim lines for Lyme disease, while December had the lowest share.

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