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Study: Many patients not getting RA drugs

Posted February 1, 2011

Rheumatoid arthritis, or RA, is a painful auto-immune disease which affects the joints and can lead to deformity and disability.

There are drugs that treat the symptoms and slow the disease's progression, but many patients aren't getting these medications, according to a new study.

rheumatoid arthritis DMARDS Care for painful RA varies by region, race, income

Swollen hands with eroding bone around the joints are common in the early stages of rheumatoid arthritis.

Jennifer Malloy was diagnosed with the disease 14 years ago.

“If I tried to extend my hand outward, it felt like a rubber band snapping in the middle of my hand,” Malloy said.

She was immediately prescribed disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs, or DMARDS, orally and then by injections.

Mallory's grandmother, who also has RA, takes only a few oral medications and still struggles with the disease.

Researchers analyzed three years of data from more than 90,000 Medicare patients aged 65 and older with RA. Two-thirds of the patients received the appropriate treatment, but other groups didn't.

“Black patients receive these medications less frequently than white patients. Patients with low incomes receive the medications less frequently than those with higher incomes,” said Dr. Gabriela Schmajuk, a researcher and instructor at Stanford University.

The study is published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

“Some health plans are doing very well; four out of five patients are receiving the medications that they need. Whereas, other plans are doing not so well; one out of five patients are getting the medication that they need,” Schmajuk said.

Researchers said where patients live in the United States is also a factor. In the Pacific region, patients received medications more frequently than those in the middle and south Atlantic regions.

Researchers said further study is needed to understand why the disparity of care exists in these particular groups of patients.

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  • mallen2 Feb 4, 2011

    I am very fortunate to have health insurance and can afford the medication for RA ($$$$$$$$). It is very expensive and I do not know how people that do not have adequate coverage could afford the medication.

  • cflukens Feb 3, 2011

    ok "thewayitis" this is why we SHOULD get the government involved in health care. People shouldn't suffer just because they can't afford the medication. That is horrible. If it were you, who could not afford your medication, you wouldn't think that doctors should make their decision based on what you could afford. Rather you would hope they would decide based on what you needed to be healthy. I doubt anyone really feels that people should only get medication if they can afford it. REALLY!

  • psycho Feb 2, 2011

    They should look at which doctors prescribe and don't prescribe... I've observed that doctors who take Medicaid and get minimum payment for their time with a patient compared to other health insurance tend to take less time, run more patients through their offices (maybe because there are fewer doctors TAKING Medicaid, so fewer doctors available per capita patients), and tend to pass off complaints more readily.

  • thewayitis Feb 2, 2011

    This is why we don't need government involved in health care -- let the doctors make prescription decisions based on their patients' needs and ability to pay. Many of these drugs are expensive, and have questionable side affects, too. Even some who can afford them choose not to take them.