Objectives: To explore criteria regulating treatment with reimbursed biologic disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (bDMARDs) in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) across Europe and to relate criteria to indicators of national socioeconomic welfare.
Methods: A cross-sectional study among 46 European countries. One expert from each country completed a questionnaire on criteria regulating the start, maintenance/stop and switch of reimbursed bDMARDs. A composite score was developed to evaluate the level of restrictions in prescription of a first bDMARD (0=highly restricted, 5=most liberal). The level of restrictiveness was correlated with national socioeconomic welfare indicators.
Results: In 10 countries (22%), no bDMARD was reimbursed. Among 36 countries with at least one biologic reimbursed, 23(64%) had no requirement for disease duration to initiate a biologic. Half of the countries required a failure of two synthetic DMARDs to qualify for therapy. 31 countries specified a minimum level of disease activity to be fulfilled and in 20 (56%) countries cut-off for disease activity score with 28-joint assessment was higher than 3.2. Four countries (11%) had the maximum composite score (most liberal) and 20 (56%) scored between 0 and 2 (more restrictive). Criteria for initiation of a bDMARD were negatively associated with countries' socioeconomic welfare (-0.34 to -0.64), and a moderate positive correlation was found between the composite score and welfare indicators (0.59-0.72). Only some countries had regulations for stopping (n=14(39%)) or switching (n=19(53%)).
Conclusions: Clinical criteria regulating prescription of bDMARDs in RA differ significantly across Europe. Countries with lower socioeconomic welfare tend to have stricter eligibility criteria, pointing to inequities in access to treatment.