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Rheumatoid arthritis is expensive burden for American workers, employers: study

One symptom of rheumatoid arthritis is joint inflammation and pain which can spread to other parts of the body through the bloodstream.
One symptom of rheumatoid arthritis is joint inflammation and pain which can spread to other parts of the body through the bloodstream. Tim Hamilton/Flickr Creative Commons

Rheumatoid arthritis hasn't gotten "the public health attention it deserves," argues a new study, highlighting the heavy cost imposed upon American workers who live with the condition.

The research, which appears in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, found that compared to workers who don't have the autoimmune disease:

  • Workers with rheumatoid arthritis tend to incur about $5,200 more in annual health care costs – each.
  • They also each pay an average of $1,500 more for prescription drugs every year.
  • Workers with R.A. tend to be absent from work about three-and-a-half more days a year.

Overall, the report said people with R.A. cost their employers across the U.S. about $5.8 billion a year more than people who don't have R.A., and account for about 4 million more lost days of work every year.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a debilitating condition that affects an estimated 2 million people in the U.S., most of whom are women. It's a lifelong autoimmune disease that causes joint inflammation which, through the bloodstream, can spread to the heart, lungs, eyes and other parts of body. There's currently no cure.

R.A. costs patients, their employers, their families and the government more than $19 billion every year overall, wrote the authors. And it may be worse than that, they added:

Other potential employer expenses such as worker training and replacement costs and costs of workplace adaptations (e.g., special keyboards, transportation devices, and other tools) were not [taken into account]. … Also, claims data do not indicate the severity of the RA.

Their findings, said the authors, indicate a need for more effective ways for people with R.A. to alleviate both the medical and financial toll of their disease.

In 2011, a study from the University of Stanford found that although approximately 90 percent of rheumatoid arthritis patients should be receiving treatment, the number who actually do is closer to 63 percent. Another study from the University of California, San Francisco found that low-income R.A. patients are more likely to develop depression than their counterparts with more money and more access to health care services.

Photo by Tim Hamilton via Flickr Creative Commons.

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