Arthritis Consumer Experts

February 18, 2009
For Immediate Release

Alberta’s coverage for gold-standard arthritis medications lags behind other provinces

(Pincher Creek, AB) — The Alberta government is lagging behind nearly every province in Canada in providing public reimbursement coverage for two gold-standard arthritis medications.

"This is a shocking example of treatment for other diseases being prioritized over treatment for severe types of inflammatory arthritis," said Cheryl Koehn, President of Arthritis Consumer Experts. "People in Alberta living with rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, and psoriatic arthritis are facing dangerous gaps in care, and will continue to do so until these medications are listed on the Alberta medication formulary in accordance with the best clinical evidence."

In Alberta, two medications remain unlisted for the treatment of three types of inflammatory arthritis: rituximab for rheumatoid arthritis, and infliximab for ankylosing spondylitis and psoriatic arthritis. These diseases are some of the most common types of inflammatory arthritis. Without proper treatment, they can cause devastating physical damage and permanent disability.

These arthritis medications are listed on many public formularies in provinces across the country. For example, rituximab is listed in every province and territory except PEI and Manitoba. Infliximab is listed for ankylosing spondylitis in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Ontario, and several Atlantic provinces.

Sandra Ursel, 68, understands the real-world consequences of this failure to list all too well. At the age of 63, the Pincher Creek resident was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. Within three months, she was unable to walk and forced to use a wheelchair. "My disease onset was incredibly fast and brutal," says Ursel. "I was forced to retire early, and was unable to take care of even the most basic tasks at home."

After trying nearly every other medication approved for use in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, Ursel's doctor found a way to get her on to rituximab through a hospital funded program. "The effect of this medication was really amazing. I went from being in a wheelchair to being able to walk short distances and enjoy some of my former activities." Ursel recalls. Unfortunately, when this funding program ended, so did her supply of rituximab.

Ursel is now facing life without coverage for the medication that has given her back her life. "Rituximab is an expensive medication, my husband and I can't pay for it on our own," she says. "Now, without it, I'm left to watch my own joints deteriorate every single day."

The joint damage caused by untreated rheumatoid arthritis is irreversible. While the right biologic, used in the right patient, can stop inflammation and halt the progression of the disease, joint damage sustained while the disease was untreated is permanent.

"If I lived in nearly any other province in Canada, I'd have coverage for rituximab," said Ursel. "But because I'm in Alberta, I'm watching my own joints being destroyed, and living with more and more pain each day."

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