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Multiple Sclerosis Health Center

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Study Questions Cost-Effectiveness of MS Drugs

Doctors Express Concern About Soaring Prices of Disease-Modifying Drugs for Multiple Sclerosis

Calculating Cost-Effectiveness of MS Drugs continued...

Patients taking Avonex, Betaseron, and Rebif gained about two quality-adjusted months compared to those getting supportive care.

The study also looked at how likely the drugs were to prevent relapses.

Those taking disease-modifying drugs spent on average nearly six out of 10 years with no relapses, compared to five years with no relapses for those who did not take disease-modifying drugs.

However, the effectiveness varied significantly among individuals, with some experiencing double the improvements and being able to live independently and prolong their employment and others not getting any meaningful effect.

Why Cost-Effectiveness Matters

"We were surprised how non-cost-effective they are," says study researcher Katia Noyes, PhD, MPH, assistant professor of health services research at the University of Rochester, N.Y.

Cost-effectiveness is a metric used by economists to try to gauge the size of the benefit patients appear to get for their health care dollar.

It's become a buzzword as the government and health insurers try to figure out which treatments are worth covering and how to control skyrocketing health care costs.

In the U.S., there is no set threshold that determines cost-effectiveness, but other countries and some health care agencies use a figure around $50,000 per quality-adjusted life year as one cutoff.

The study found disease-modifying drugs for multiple sclerosis are about 16 times more expensive than that.

"When we talk about effectiveness, we're talking about average effectiveness. If we look at the individual person, many of them will have great benefits, and there will be some who have no benefit at all or even negative effects," Noyes says. "So here is a trade-off between national policy or population-based policy and individual patients."

For the study, researchers extracted data on 844 people with MS who were part of a large national patient database. They collected information on things like health care costs, lost work time, disease severity, disease progression, and medications, and they used that information to develop mathematical models.

Over 10 years, the models estimated that the average cost to treat one patient was $267,710 with supportive care, but nearly doubled when researchers added the costs of disease-modifying drugs to the equation.

Overall, health outcomes for patients on the disease-modifying drugs appeared to be only slightly better than for those on supportive care.

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