There are currently 11 treatment options for multiple sclerosis (MS) in the United States. Some of these are symptomatic treatments, and some actually slow progression of the disease. Before 2009 there were only 4, but new developments have been consistently making headway in the field. At first glance, it appears progress has been great. But unfortunately, despite the rise in developments, these developments haven’t been accessible to patients.
The Price Hike
A new study, published in JAMA Neurology, found that from 2006 to 2016, the annual cost for MS disease modifying drugs has more than quadrupled. This spike is the result of the addition of new medications to the market.
The lead author of this study was Alvaro San-Juan-Rodriguez from the University of Pittsburgh. He and his team looked at the FDA recommended doses for various medications for MS and calculated the annual cost for the treatment in Medicare Part D plans. They found that Medicare spending for MS increased from 7,794 dollars to 79,411 dollars a year. That’s a surge of 10.2-fold.
More disheartening than this statistic, was what the researchers found in terms of patients’ out of pocket cost. This price rose 7.2-fold. The approximate cost of treatment per year went from 372 dollars to 2,673 dollars.
This is not only a burden for patients, it can jeopardize their access to the treatment they desperately need.
Alvaro says his hope is that this study will be a call to action to make a change. Affordability needs to be ensured because it affects accessibility, and most importantly, patient outcomes.
Limitations of the Study
The findings of this study are pivotal. However, this investigation was not without drawbacks. Unfortunately, it was not able to examine access itself, but solely the price of the medications. While financial burdens are a large contributor to access, this correlation could not be made based on this study. Similarly, this investigation did not look at the negative health outcomes which ensue from a lack of access. However, in many respects this is common sense.
These both could be extensions of the study in the future. One additional extension could be an investigation of the medicines that patients can only receive from their doctors office. This study exclusively looked at self-administered medications.
Finding the Cheapest Option
So what are MS patients to do in the current state? Many try to find generic versions or older versions of drugs. However, these aren’t necessarily cheaper for Medicare Part D members specifically. For instance, the generic version of Copaxone is more expensive than the brand name for these individuals.
The fact of the matter is, no one wants to pay high prices, so when prices go up, insurance companies often stop covering drugs or they increase the amount that patients have to pay themselves. This is one reason that shopping around for different insurance companies is important. However, nonetheless, there is a systematic problem here.
We need to do better for MS patients.
You can read more about this issue here.