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Treatment Cost for Arthritis on the Rise: Study

The amount Americans spent on arthritis medications more than doubled between 1998 and 2003, due to the fast-rising number of people// with the disease, increases in the number of medications they take each month and the inflation-adjusted cost per prescription, according to a new study led by a UCSF researcher.

Results from a six-year study of U.S. arthritis patients and the cost of arthritis medications and clinical treatments appear in the May 2007 issue of “Arthritis & Rheumatism,” the journal of the American College of Rheumatology.

The study was performed in response to a growing concern about the escalating costs of arthritis care as the U.S. population ages, according to Ed Yelin, PhD, a professor of rheumatology in the UCSF School of Medicine and lead author of the study. “Arthritis can be a highly debilitating disease that, as this study shows, presents a substantial cost to our society,” Yelin said. “We are also seeing a shift in the burden of that cost onto patients, who rely on Medicare to cover a large fraction of their inpatient care, but pay for a relatively larger share of their drug treatments from their own pockets.”

From 1997 to 2003, the number of Americans with arthritis or other rheumatic conditions rose 25 percent, due to the aging U.S. population, Yelin said, from 36.8 million adults to 46.1 million. Those numbers correspond to 18.7 percent and 21.5 percent of the population, respectively.

During the same period, the cost of prescription drugs to treat the condition nearly doubled, from $897.60 per patient per year to $1,638, Yelin said. The change was due to both an increase in the mean number of prescriptions each patient received (from 18.7 per year to 25.2) and a rise in the cost of each prescription from $48 to $65, after adjusting for inflation.

The study estimated total medical care expenditures incurred on behalf of those with musculoskeletal conditions as well as the
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