New Zealand will expand patient access to a list of funded treatments for multiple sclerosis (MS), starting on March 1.
The government health agency, PHARMAC, will extend eligibility criteria to include MS patients with expanded disability status scale (EDSS) scores ranging from zero to six. EDSS is a validated tool to assess the levels of disability and disease progression in people with MS. Patients within this EDSS range include those not showing any signs of disability up to those with a level of disability that is severe enough for them to require assistance to walk 100 meters with or without resting.
Previously, to be eligible to receive funded treatments, MS patients must be able to walk 500 meters without resting or receiving any sort of assistance.
In practice, this means that MS patients living in New Zealand will now be able to continue receiving their funded treatments for a longer period of time, as long as their EDSS scores remain at six or lower, including those who ceased receiving funded treatments because they no longer met the previous eligibility criteria.
“We wanted to make sure that all those who were benefitting from the funded treatments were able to continue to get them,” Lisa Williams, director of operations at PHARMAC, said in a press release. “To support this, we are widening the eligibility criteria to people with an Expanded Disability Status Scale (EDSS) score of 0 (as soon as you are diagnosed and have had two qualifying relapses) to 6.0 (inclusive).”
“People with multiple sclerosis who stopped funded treatment due to the previous eligibility criteria may now be able to restart funded treatment,” she added. “People should talk to their specialist to work out if that is an option for them.”
This decision came as a relief for Jeremy Seed, a former New Zealand army officer who was diagnosed with MS more than a decade ago.
“It is really good news,” he said. “The 500 metre walk was an annual stressor, and I was worried each time I would no longer qualify for my medication. Ironically, stress can exacerbate MS, so not having to worry about it is fantastic.”
PHARMAC is also simplifying the application process for funded MS treatments. From March 1, clinicians’ applications will no longer require approval from the Multiple Sclerosis Treatment Assessment Committee. Instead, healthcare professionals will use a standard Special Authority application that has previously been implemented for other funded medications.
“Rather than applying to a group of PHARMAC appointed clinical experts, clinicians will now use the standard electronic Special Authority process,” Williams said. “This will make it quicker for people with multiple sclerosis to access funding for the medicine they need and less burdensome for clinicians to apply.”
A complete list of funded MS treatments in New Zealand can be found here.
Additional details about this decision and specific information for healthcare providers and pharmacists are available here.
“We have been advocating for these changes that will keep people on treatment for longer, thereby improving their brain-health, keeping them in work longer, active, and able to support their families and themselves,” said Amanda Rose, national manager at Multiple Sclerosis Society of New Zealand.
“These changes will also help to speed up the approval process and relieve the pressure on New Zealand’s under-resourced neurology workforce,” she added.
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