IBD Pediatric Costs & Cannabis Still No Data for IBD

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A recent single-center study (AW Fondell et al. Inflamm Bowel Dis 2020; 26: 635-40, editorial by Joel Rosh, 641-2) examined the first-year costs of children with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in 2016.  There were 67 patients (43 with Crohn’s disease (CD), and 24 with ulcerative colitis (UC)).

Key findings:

  • Mean cost was $45,753; $43,095 for CD, $50,516 for UC
  • Severe CD (n=11) was $71,176 and severe UC (n=5) was $134,178; it is notable that only one patient with CD had surgery and only one patient with UC had surgery.
  • Overall cost distribution: 37% from infusion costs, 25% hospital costs, 18% outpatient procedures, 10% outpatient oral medications, 7% outpatient imaging and 3% outpatient visits.
  • 69% of CD patients and 33% of UC patients received biologics
  • 21% (n=9) of CD patients and 45% (n=11) of UC patients were hospitalized
  • Private payer reimbursement was a mean of $51,269 compared to $24,610 mean for Medicaid.

Limitations: 

  • In any cost analysis, many assumptions are needed.  For medications, for example, the author used pharmaceutical retail prices.  The actual costs are near-impossible to calculate as every insurance policy and every hospital system has a multitude of charges based on proprietary negotiations.
  • While this data comes from a referral center, all of the patients in the study were from Connecticut.

Due to the expense of care, Dr. Rosh points out that many insurers have often mandated the use of “standard dosing” of biologic therapy, “ignoring that robust data” indicate that this dosing is “the exception rather than the rule in pediatric IBD patients.”  These type of short-sighted interventions could affect long-term medical outcomes.

My take: There clearly are areas where costs can be reduced (eg. lower infusion costs, lower endoscopy costs, biosimilars).  However, no amount of cost cutting will change the conclusion that good care for IBD is expensive.

Briefly noted: TS Kafil et al. Inflamm Bowel Dis 2020; 26: 502-9.   This study examined evidence for cannabis effectiveness in IBD.  After performing a literature search, the authors could only identify five randomized controlled trials (n=185).  Each study used different doses, formulations and routes of administration.  No studies evaluated maintenance treatment and relapse in CD or UC.  Findings: “no firm conclusions can be made regarding the safety and effectiveness of cannabis and cannabionoids in adults with CD and UC.”

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