As I prepare myself to write this month’s column, I am surrounded by press releases relating to new drugs for rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis and osteoporosis.
There is no question that these drugs have stepped the therapy for arthritis and osteoporosis to another level. We are now in a position where we can revert the disease. We can categorically show that individuals with crippling rheumatoid arthritis are able to get better, improve their quality of life, and restore function to their daily living that previously was unheard of. We are able to reduce bone loss and in fact, we are actually able to recapture bone that osteoporotic individuals have lost over the years.
So, we have made dramatic strides in treating patients with the musculoskeletal diseases, which gives me great pleasure and leaves me with a tingling feeling of excitement knowing what I have to offer my patients.
However, and this is a big however, I am left with a sense of serious foreboding depression with regards to the question as to how patients are going to be able to afford the cost of the new breakthrough drugs. There is no question we are in a crisis mode, which I see every day in my office. Patients come with diseases that are crying out to be treated and they want to be treated, but cannot afford the cost of their medications.
I believe if we do not address the issue of insurance coverage for prescription drugs, we are going to enter into a situation in the near future where only the very few ultra wealthy will be able to afford the cost of these new medications. The medications are priced as high as they are because of a number of factors including research costs, development costs and profit needs.
I believe a combined approach to deal with this problem is urgently needed. Obviously, the pharmaceutical companies need to be prepared to make less profit on these drugs.
Alternatively, the patient population needs to understand that there has to be an individual commitment to paying for the cost of medication. Finally, the federal government, as is the case on most western countries, needs to step up to the plate and subsidize a prescription insurance plan that will allow all members of our society to obtain the benefits of these new medication that may help them return to the work force, become less of a burden on society, and ultimately, better people.
If we don’t all start moving together rapidly as a unified force rather than fragmented opponents, I am afraid that the benefits of all modern science knowledge may come to naught.