The Costs of Rheumatoid Arthritis
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The economic costs associated with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). a chronic. systemic. inflammatory disorder that affects many joints. are high. approximating those of coronary heart disease. The estimated prevalence of RA in the US is 0.9%. Incidence increases with age. and is highest among women in the fourth to sixth decades of life, The primary impact of RA is due to the significant morbidity associated with this disease. Mortality is increased among a poorly defined subgroup of RA patients. The average level of disability among RA patients is moderate. but 6.5 to 12% of patients are severely disabled. Between one- and two-thirds of prev iously employed patients have a reduced work capacity.
Treatment primarily involves the use of nonsteroidal anti -inflammatory drugs and disease modifying <lntirheumatic drugs. Rehabilitation measures and orthopaedic surgery are also used. Total annual direct costs of RA (total charges) have been calculated to be $US5275 and $US6099 ( 1991 dollars) per patient. Lifetime medical care charges were estimated at SUS 12578 per patient (1991 dollars).
The dircct costs of RA are substantial, but indirect costS have been calculated to be much higher because of extensive morbidity. The difference between the direct and indirect costs of RA is decreasing because salary increases have nOi kept pace with risin g heahhcare costs. The latter arc increasing rapidly in RA because of the use of new technology. surgical procedures. and the greater use of drugs with frequent monitoring requirements and significant toxicity. Because intangible costs such as pain form a substantial part of the overall costs ofRA but are difficult to evaluate. cost estimates inevitably underestimate the impact of the disease on individuals and society.
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