Friday, June 01, 2007

Easier Access To Multiple Sclerosis Treatments Will Reduce Overall Healthcare Costs: MS Society Canada

According to the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada early and easy access to MS treatment options has the potential to improve quality of life and significantly reduce healthcare costs. The cost of MS to the Canadian economy is estimated to be more than 1 billion dollars per year.

The commentary comes as a result of two MS-related articles published in this month's Canadian Journal of Neurological Sciences. MS is an auto-immune disease that affects 55,000 to 75,000 Canadians. Symptoms can vary greatly but include numbness, problems with vision, partial or full paralysis and cognitive deficits.

The articles bring to light new healthcare access and quality of life data related to people living with MS. Compared to the average Canadian, people with MS:

-- consult a medical doctor nearly twice as frequently
-- are admitted overnight to a hospital 2.5 times more frequently
-- consult mental health professionals 2.6 times more frequently

In an accompanying editorial, Dr. Luanne Metz, a professor of clinical neurosciences at the University of Calgary and a member of the MS Society's health research review committee, urged that barriers to appropriate treatment and care for people with MS be removed.

Dr. Metz comments, "These studies imply that improving the health of Canadians with MS can reduce the societal cost of caring for them. This could include benefits derived from the use of existing treatments, but only if people with MS are given access to treatments early, before disability accumulates. To do this, we must reduce barriers to proven therapies which include access to experts, economic barriers and lack of knowledge about treatments."

The MS Society of Canada recently won a major victory in securing easier access to MS therapies in Newfoundland and Labrador. Prior to the efforts of the MS Society, they were the only province in the country that did not provide universal drug coverage of MS therapies that can cost up to $40,000 per year. Now, so-called "co-pays" - or the portion that the person with MS must pay - have been reduced significantly. For example, a family with an income of $30,000/year will face a maximum co-pay of $1,500, whereas previously this family would pay $19,600.

Efforts like these, coupled with improved therapies and services for symptom management will improve quality of life and bring down healthcare costs in the form of reduced hospitalization expenses.

The studies also highlighted other societal costs:

-- employment rates in MS populations are lower than 50 per cent
-- a caregiver is needed by half of all people with MS
-- over 70 per cent of people with MS need assistance with one or more tasks
-- on average, those with MS have significantly impaired quality of life as compared to the general population

MS is the most common neurological disease of young Canadians with an average age of diagnosis between 15 and 40. Canada has one of the highest prevalence rates of MS in the world at 240 per 100,000. The annual lifetime cost of the disease is estimated at $1.6 million per person.

The two published studies were led by Dr. Sheri Pohar from the Institute of Health Economics in in Edmonton, and by Ms. Wilma Hopman and Dr. Don Brunet from Queen's University in Kingston. The Hopman & Brunet study was funded by the MS Society of Canada.