Survey says half of people with rheumatoid disease struggle to pay for treatment

Survey says half of people with rheumatoid disease struggle to pay for treatment

Rheumatoid disease encompasses inflammatory conditions that affect the joints, muscle, bones, and organs. A new study found that despite 90 of patients have health insurance, nearly 60 percent said that they are struggling to afford medication or treatment in the last year.

In celebration of the Rheumatic Disease Awareness Month, the American College of Rheumatology performed a national survey to determine how many patients have access to affordable healthcare and what are the challenges the patients face. The team asked the participants if they have access to rheumatology care, afford their treatment, and if they can perform their tasks.

The survey shows that more than 1,500 adults in the United States with rheumatic disease responded to the survey, which asked questions about healthcare access, affordability, and lifestyle. The results of the study could open the door for policymakers to provide more focus on the importance of providing affordable access to rheumatoid care.

Rheumatoid diseases are inflammatory, degenerative, and autoimmune conditions that impact a person’s joints, bones, organs, and muscles. There are more than 100 rheumatoid conditions today, including rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, gout, and lupus. Other forms of the illness include polymyalgia rheumatica, vasculitis, Sjögren’s syndrome, spondylarthritis, and scleroderma, among others.

In the United States, there are about 54 million adults living with rheumatic disease, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports.

The Americana College of Rheumatology conducted the Rheumatic Disease Patient Survey utilizing SurveyMonkey, an online polling website. The team opened the survey from June 28 to 29, 2019. The team presented the findings of the survey in September 2019, during the 4th Annual Rheumatic Disease Awareness Month.

Challenges faced by patients with rheumatoid disease

Timely and equal access to rheumatology care is vital for patients to manage their condition. However, with the policy challenges happening, such as lack of insurance coverage, use of restrictive step therapy practices, and the rheumatology workforce shortage, many patients find it challenging to access care.
For instance, nearly 60 percent of the participants with rheumatic disease are being treated or have been referred to a rheumatologist. However, many patients, specifically 39.58 percent had to wait about 31 to 6 0 days before they are scheduled for initial treatment.

Moreover, almost half of the patients who are being treated for the condition reported that their insurance company subjected them to step therapy. Step therapy is a process wherein the patients need to try and fail treatments preferred by their insurance companies before they will be approved for a doctor-prescribed option.

In terms of expenses, about one-quarter of the participants said that shed out more than $1,000 per year out of their pockets for treatment. Nearly 60 percent of the patients taking prescription medicines or receiving treatment for the illness find it hard to afford their treatment in the past years. Even in patients with insurance coverage, affordability of treatment has been a persistent problem.

“These findings make clear that Americans living with rheumatic disease – regardless of age, gender, or income level – struggle to find affordable care," Dr. Paula Marchetta, president of the American College of Rheumatology, said.
“To address these challenges, it is crucial for patients, clinicians, and policymakers to work together to improve access to rheumatology care so that patients can live longer healthier, and more fulfilling lives,” she added.

Patients’ lifestyle affected

Patients who have the rheumatic disease are often faced with problems when they perform daily tasks. Rheumatoid disease, if not properly treated, can lead to lifestyle problems and the difficulty of performing daily activities. Without proper treatment, it could also lead to permanent disability.

About 63.81 percent of patients said that they have problems performing simple tasks such as getting dressed, running errands, eating, and cooking, among others. In younger patients, they have less problems performing daily tasks, but older patients find it challenging to perform even simple activities.

“The survey makes clear that Americans with rheumatic disease - irrespective of gender, age, or income are struggling to access affordable care to improve their quality of life. By providing additional context to the Rheumatic Disease Report Card, this survey contributes new insights into the unique access, affordability,” the researchers concluded in the survey.

American College of Rheumatology. (2019). 2019 rheumatic disease patient survey. Simple Tasks: American College of Rheumatology.

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