The out-of-pocket cost for rheumatoid arthritis (RA) treatment is between $1,000 and $5,000 per year, according to a recently released survey of more than 1,000 Americans.1
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Figures from the survey, “RA in America 2013,” showed 44% of respondents spent between $1,000 and $5,000 per year, and nearly 15% of respondents spent more than $5,000 per year. Although the survey by Health Union, LLC, is not scientifically validated, it does raise “concerns,” says Jonathan Coblyn, MD, director of clinical rheumatology at the Center for Arthritis and Joint Diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
“It didn’t surprise me, intellectually, but I was surprised to see almost half of RA patients are spending $5,000 a year out of pocket … and that is just for RA treatment,” says Dr. Coblyn, associate professor at Harvard Medical School and a member of ACR’s Communications and Marketing Committee. “They may be spending even more for other treatments. It’s unsettling because we have these drugs, which are terrific, and some patients will not have access to them.”
The survey, which presented data on topics ranging from impact on career and role of caregivers to flares and remission, also showed 44% of all RA patients have at one time or another avoided treatment due to cost.
“This is a societal issue,” Dr. Coblyn adds. “That means approximately 30% of people with RA are going to avoid treatment due to expense, and we know that only 30% respond well to the low-cost therapies.”
Noting the high efficacy and “incredible expense” new biologic therapies offer, Dr. Coblyn says the survey results underscore physicians’ responsibility to control costs. He also emphasizes “deep dives” into patients’ ability to pay.
“If you fail at the low-priced triple therapy, and your patient continues to have active disease, to deny these drugs is pennywise and pound foolish,” he adds. “It has clearly been shown these drugs change the natural history of the disease. The balance, in the long run, is that they are probably still cost effective, despite the upfront cost.”
Richard Quinn is a freelance writer in New Jersey.