Arthritis Foundation President and CEO, Dr. John Klippel, has written an really interesting editorial about the high cost of prescription drugs as a barrier to arthritis treatment (you can download the PDF of the full editorial here).
A rheumatologist himself, he says he can remember the days where patients had to give up on their dreams, relationships, and careers in order to cope with failed medications, hospitalizations, and joint replacements because disease-modifying medications just weren't enough to control their RA.
With the advent of biologic drugs, difficult-to-treat cases have become possible-to-treat. When a new class of medications brings significantly improved outcomes, and reduces the likelihood of future pain, surgeries, wheelchairs, and early death, it's a game changer.
But the point of the editorial is not how awesome biologics are - the point is that too many patients are being forced to live in the past because their tiered high-copayment or coinsurance prescription plans leave these life changing medications out of the reach of their budgets.
Biologic medicines are expensive because they are produced with living cells - rather than from synthetic chemicals in a laboratory. Annual costs for these medications can exceed $20,000 per patient - and this for a single medication (and many of us know that it often takes more than one prescription to completely control our disease).
While the Arthritis Foundation and most rheumatologists recommend early diagnosis and aggressive treatment of RA - to prevent long-term joint destruction - high out-of-pocket expenses may delay newly diagnosed patients from starting on biologics, or prevent them entirely. This can lead to lifelong disability.
So, as I said before, if you care about this issue should consider writing to your representative to advocate for increased coverage of these life changing medications.
I am lucky enough to be able to afford my Enbrel (when I'm not pregnant, obviously), but I know that not everyone out there is so lucky. I truly feel for those who suffer from RA but can't afford the medications that could drastically improve the quality of their lives, particularly because I know exactly how much Enbrel has changed my life - I quite honestly don't think I would be having this baby without the help I had from Enbrel in getting my health back on track. I think legislation that would increase access to these medications is really worth supporting.