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Objective

Using disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) improves outcomes in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and is a nationally endorsed quality measure. We investigated the prevalence and predictors of receiving glucocorticoids alone for the treatment of RA in a nationwide sample of Medicare beneficiaries.

Methods

Among individuals ages ≥65 years with RA enrolled in the Part D prescription drug benefit in 2009, we compared those with ≥1 DMARD claim to those receiving glucocorticoid monotherapy, defined as no DMARD claim and an annual glucocorticoid supply of ≥180 days or an annual dose of ≥900 mg of prednisone or equivalent. We fit multivariable models to determine the sociodemographic and clinical factors associated with glucocorticoid monotherapy.

Results

Of 8,125 beneficiaries treated for RA, 10.2% (n = 825) received glucocorticoids alone. Beneficiaries with low incomes were more likely to receive glucocorticoids alone (12.3%; 95% confidence interval [95% CI] 10.9–13.8% versus 9.4%; 95% CI 8.6–10.1%), as were those living in certain US regions. More physician office visits and hospitalizations were associated with glucocorticoid monotherapy. Individuals who had no contact with a rheumatologist were significantly more likely to receive glucocorticoids alone (17.5%; 95% CI 16.0–19.0% versus 8.5%; 95% CI 7.4–9.5% for those with no rheumatology visits versus 1–4 visits).

Conclusion

Approximately 1 in 10 Medicare beneficiaries treated for RA received glucocorticoids without DMARDs in 2009. Compared to DMARD users, glucocorticoid users were older, had lower incomes, were more likely to live in certain US regions, and were less likely to have seen a rheumatologist, suggesting persistent gaps in quality of care despite expanded drug coverage under Part D.