Ills Like Depression, Hypertension More Common in MS Patients Than Others in US, Blue Cross Report Finds

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by Joana Carvalho, PhD |

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DMTs and MS progression

Multiple sclerosis (MS) patients in the U.S. are three times more likely to have mental or behavioral health issues, including depression and substance abuse (substance use disorder), than the general population, a report based on commercial insurance claims by the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA) found.

All those whose claims were used to compile the report carried for-profit, commercial coverage through the BCBSA.

The Health Impact of Multiple Sclerosis report, part of the association’s The Health of America Report series, also found that MS patients are two to three times more likely to have comorbid, chronic conditions like hypertension (high blood pressure) or high cholesterol compared to the overall U.S. population.

These people are also twice as likely as other residents to develop coronary artery disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis, the report stated.

Findings were drawn from the BCBS Health Index, a database of medical claims containing data on the more than 41 million insured members of the Blue Cross Blue Shield — an association of local health insurance companies with both for-profit and non-profit arms — collected between 2014 and 2017. The series’ stated goal is to “uncover key trends and insights in healthcare affordability and access to care” in the United States.

“More than half a million commercially insured Americans were living with multiple sclerosis in 2017, with diagnoses increasing 4% over a three-year timespan,” the report stated. “Many people with MS also experience several additional chronic or behavioral health conditions that can affect daily life, and overall health and wellness. These MS trends indicate a need to continue focusing on the diagnosis, symptom management and treatment for a growing number of Americans.”

Between 2014 and 2017, 21,700 U.S. residents were diagnosed with MS, corresponding to an 4% increase in the diagnosis rate, with the largest group in Northeastern states, the report noted. Claims data showed that women made of 75% of these newly diagnosed patients, at an average age of 47 years old.

“Based on these findings, and upon learning that on average those living with MS lose 14.8 years of healthy life, we can see that MS has a clear impact on a person’s overall health. This is especially apparent when you consider about half of those diagnosed with MS are battling at least one other chronic health condition,” Vincent Nelson, MD, vice president of Medical Affairs for the BCBSA, said in a press release.

“This is particularly true when it comes to an individual’s mental health. While substance use and major depression can affect anyone, there’s a connection here that we cannot ignore. We need to monitor these connections to ensure those with MS that are suffering from another condition receive the care they need when they need it,” Nelson added.

This report, the 27th study released in the group’s Health of America series, found that more than 520,000 U.S. residents with MS relied on commercial insurance in 2017.

“The National MS Society commends the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association for conducting this important study of health issues experienced by people living with MS,” said Bruce Bebo, PhD, executive vice president of research for the National MS Society.

“This study confirms that people with MS are more likely to experience other medical and mood conditions that can impact their MS and overall health. The Society encourages and supports healthy lifestyle behaviors that can help people manage their MS and possibly shift the trajectory of the disease,” Bebo added.

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