My name is Dr. Christopher Mecoli, and I’m a practicing rheumatologist in Baltimore, Maryland and a Physician Ambassador during this year’s Rheumatic Disease Awareness Month. I would like to give you a quick update on the care situation for the nearly one million Marylanders who are living with a rheumatic disease.

Every day, I see the debilitating effects of rheumatic disease on the health and well-being of my patients. Despite recent advancements in treatment, living with a chronic illness is never easy and basic tasks like eating, buttoning a shirt, or brushing your hair can become painful and challenging.

For rheumatologists in Maryland and other states across the country, one of the primary difficulties we face is the sheer scale of the epidemic. According to some arthritis studies, as many as 90 million Americans are living with a life-altering rheumatic disease. Given the size and scope of this silent epidemic, the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) recently set out to understand how Americans with rheumatic diseases are faring nationwide.

In September, the ACR released the Rheumatic Disease Report Card, which grades each state’s progress in providing access to rheumatology care, ensuring treatments are affordable, and encouraging healthy lifestyle habits that ease the burden of living with a rheumatic disease. On a national level, the results were humbling. The majority of states received a “C” grade in the report.

rheumatic disease report card MarylandBut despite the rather bleak outlook nationally, there was some good news for Maryland. With a high concentration of rheumatologists and strong policies aimed at increasing patient access and keeping treatments affordable, Maryland is ranked one of the best places in the country to live with a rheumatic disease. In fact, Maryland was the only state in the country to receive an overall grade of “A” in the report.

While nearly a quarter of Marylanders have arthritis, the state also has one of the lowest uninsured rates in the country at 6.1 percent. This is due in no small part to state lawmakers’ decision to expand Medicaid access, which has increased total enrollment in Medicaid by 52 percent since the expansion was implemented. State lawmakers have also taken important steps to curb the secretive pricing practices of Pharmacy Benefit Managers – the middlemen hired by insurers to manage drug benefit programs – that drive up treatment costs for patients.

All of these factors have contributed to Maryland’s overall success in treating rheumatic disease. As this epidemic becomes more widely recognized and properly diagnosed, hopefully, more states will look to Maryland as an example of what works well in terms of ensuring Americans are able to enjoy a high quality of life despite their disease.

Christopher Mecoli, MD