Arthritis Consumer Experts

August 11, 2008
For Immediate Release

People with inflammatory arthritis treated as second class citizens in Ontario

(Toronto, ON) — While people with devastating forms of inflammatory arthritis continue to be denied coverage for critically important medications, the Ontario government announced last week $741 million in new money to fund a provincial diabetes plan.

"This is another clear indicator of the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long Term Care's discrimination based on disease-type," said Cheryl Koehn, person with rheumatoid arthritis and President of Arthritis Consumer Experts. "While we must be very clear that we do not wish to see anything taken away from people with diabetes or any other disease, the Ministry of Health's continued refusal to level the playing field between arthritis and other serious diseases is unacceptable."

In Ontario, several medications remain unavailable on the Ontario Drug Benefit plan formulary for the treatment of some of the most devastating forms of arthritis. These medications are part of a class of drugs called biologic response modifiers. When accessed early in the disease process, biologics are often able to slow or stop disease, and prevent crippling joint damage caused by inflammation.

"The Ontario Ministry of Health and Long Term Care has taken the position that there is no 'care gap' for Ontarians living with serious inflammatory arthritis," continued Koehn, "but nothing could be further from the truth. The bureaucracy is simply shoving science under the carpet and hoping that no one will notice. Well our members in Ontario say enough is enough."

Dr. John Esdaile, Scientific Director of the Arthritis Research Centre of Canada further explained the science:

"In rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis, we have learned a great deal about the complex pathways that lead to the intense inflammation that causes the pain, loss of mobility and if left unchecked, certain permanent disability and premature death. A number of different medications have been developed to interfere with critical parts of the inflammatory process," he said.

"What science has not told us yet is which inflammation pathway is critical to the joint destruction in a specific person with arthritis. We cannot predict which person will respond to one of these medications and not another medication. Rheumatologists must be able to prescribe from the full arsenal of biologic disease modifiers to best help individual patients."

"Like in other diseases where they are used, biologic response modifiers in the treatment of inflammatory arthritis can cost up to $20,000 per year per patient, however, only one biologic response modifier can ever be used at one time," Koehn clarified. "In real-world terms, this means that listing all five currently available would not increase costs, it would only help doctors and patients choose the best one for the patient's disease profile."

Based on Arthritis Consumer Experts' most recent Report Card on Provincial Formulary Reimbursement Coverage for Biologic Response Modifiers, Ontario ranks sixth in the country for coverage. Ontario's biologic response modifier listings also fall short of the Health Canada and Common Drug Review approvals and recommendations, as well as they do not meet the recommendations for the use of nonbiologic and biologic disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs in rheumatoid arthritis issued by the American College of Rheumatology in June 2008.

"Why are Ontarians with arthritis being treated with a significantly lower standard of care than other Canadians?" Koehn asked. "The Ontario government has had close to two years to make the right decision and provide reimbursement coverage for medications deemed scientifically important and medically necessary by virtually every arthritis expert in the world," she continued.

"With $741 million in new money available to create a comprehensive prevention, treatment and care program for diabetes, you cannot tell me there is no money for medicines that are proved to prevent damage and disability in inflammatory arthritis," Koehn concluded. "Is it not time that the human rights on Ontarians living with arthritis be upheld the same way they are for those living with other diseases?"

About ACE

Arthritis Consumer Experts (ACE) is a national organization that provides research-based information and education to Canadians with arthritis, and monitors the performance of provincial health care delivery to those living with the disease. The organization helps to empower people living with all forms of arthritis to take control of their disease and to take action in health care and research decision making. ACE is led by people with arthritis and its activities are guided by a strict set of guiding principles, and by an advisory board comprised of leading scientists, medical professionals and informed arthritis activists.

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For more information:
Quincey Kirschner, JointHealth™ program director, Arthritis Consumer Experts
(778) 847-9793