Why Is Having RA So Expensive?
Last updated: May 2023
You probably wouldn't know this unless you have RA—and maybe even if you do have RA, you haven't thought about this—but having RA is really expensive. You might think that it's just because of doctor's visits, and while that is one part, there are so many other expenses involved with having RA. My aim is not to complain here; it's to shed light on how much RA affects my life physically, emotionally, and now that I'm aware, financially.
The financial burdens of rheumatoid arthritis
First, doctor's visits are incredibly expensive, especially in the United States, and especially if you don't have health insurance. Without insurance, I would have to pay about $250 per visit to my rheumy, and that is just for the consultation. It does not include lab work or X-rays (which I sometimes need if I am experiencing more pain than usual so my rheumy can see how RA is affecting my joints). Additionally, there may be costs for prior authorizations or other paperwork. Lab work, especially in the USA, is incredibly expensive. My last round of lab work was billed at $3000 for only a few tests. I do have insurance, and I recognize that it is an immense privilege. However, I'm trying to highlight just how expensive having RA can be and how challenging it is to simply try to survive.
High costs of medications and healthcare
Even if you do have insurance, you still have to pay copays, coinsurance, and, of course, the cost of insurance itself. Then, there is the concern of whether insurance will cover the tests your doctor orders or, if you're like me, worrying if insurance will approve your prior authorization for the biologics you need to feel better and survive.
This brings me to my biggest expense with RA: my Humira. As you may know, in the US, Humira is currently under a patent, which means its cost is exorbitant. When my insurance approves my Humira, it will bill my insurance around $12,000 for a 2-month supply. That's $6,000 a month without insurance. This cost burden means that if you don't have insurance that covers your medication, you end up facing a choice between suffering in pain or having no money. I know I, and many other people, could not afford $6,000 a month. Our healthcare system needs to change to allow easier and more affordable access to life-saving and life-changing drugs.
Additional expenses to consider
You've paid your copays, your coinsurance, and your Humira costs—shouldn't it end there? Well, if you're like me, you need specific shoes that help alleviate pain and allow you to walk (the Birks I have now cost $200). The heating pad I use at the end of the day to reduce swelling in my joints costs $40. Ibuprofen, which I take regularly, is fairly inexpensive but adds up over time. There are also various other costs associated, such as $30 for compression gloves and $20 for compression socks. These expenses add up quickly.
Understanding the true costs of rheumatoid arthritis
What's not being considered here are the non-monetary costs associated with having RA. Unfortunately, you lose a lot of time that you used to spend doing things you enjoy. You lose time with friends. You miss out on moments that you could have spent traveling, writing, or reading because you're too fatigued to do anything.
The costs, both financial and opportunity-related, are immense with RA, and sometimes I don't think people realize that until they list out all the ways that RA affects them. It's important to reconnect and ensure that we realize how RA is affecting us in order to have a better understanding of ourselves and our bodies.
Did you know rheumatologist Dr. Donica Baker is answering community questions?
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