It’s Not Just Cancer Patients. MS Patients Also Deal With Financial Toxicity

September 14, 2020

Emory University researchers found that financial toxicity may be a more serious problem for multiple sclerosis patients than for cancer patients.

The term “financial toxicity” was coined to describe the financial burden (and associated consequences on medical care) that the high cost of cancer drugs puts on cancer patients.

But financial toxicity is hardly unique to oncology and can certainly affect people with other illnesses that are treated with high-priced drugs.

In fact, research findings reported recently the Multiple Sclerosis Journal found that financial toxicity may be a bigger problem for multiple sclerosis patient than it is for cancer patients.

Using a survey designed to measure financial toxicity called the Comprehensive Score for Financial Patient-Reported Outcome — which abbreviates as COST — a research team led by Gelareh Sadigh of Emory School of Medicine in Atlanta found that the COST scores for 243 adult multiple sclerosis (MS) patients indicated greater financial toxicity than is typically seen among cancer patient. (The median COST score for the MS patients was 17.4 compared with the mean score 23 among cancer patients, and the lower the COST, the greater the financial toxicity.)

Roughly a third (34%) of the MS patient respondents reported nonadherence (either with medication or with imaging tests) because of treatment expenses and about one in five (20.6%) of the MS patients reported that they had a medical problem for which they did not seek evaluation because of treatment costs.

Almost all (99.6%) the patients had health insurance coverage, so the survey is more evidence that the financial toxicity and its consequences are not simply a consequence of people lacking insurance coverage but, rather, of the high out-of-pocket costs with insurance.

In their secondary analysis, Sadigh and her colleagues found that greater financial toxicity among the multiple sclerosis patients was associated with life-altering coping strategies and worse health-related quality of life.

A 2013 study estimated that the annual cost of MS-related care at $23,434, but that calculation was based on costs in 2009, so it is quite dated. There is an often-cited figure of $4.1 million for the lifetime cost of MS.

Sadigh and her co-investigators mention a recent study that found that less than half (45%) of those questioned had money on hand to pay an annual deductible of $5,000 per family.