Hi Simple Tasks readers! My name is Dr. Vaneet Sandhu and I was one of the American College of Rheumatology’s (ACR) Physician Ambassadors during last year’s Rheumatic Disease Awareness Month. As a rheumatologist from the state of California, I’m on the front lines of an overlooked epidemic that affects more than 54 million Americans nationwide, including 5.9 million Californians. I’ve seen firsthand how rheumatic diseases – including lupus, gout, and rheumatoid arthritis – can cause pain, long-term physical disability, organ damage, and even premature death if left untreated.

California Rheumatic Disease Grade 2018With millions of Californians living with rheumatic diseases, our state must take every conceivable step to ensure patients have access to quality treatment and care. Fortunately, great progress has been made on several important fronts. For example, in the ACR’s Rheumatic Disease Report Card, I was pleased to see that California scored well in the access and activity categories. While this is undoubtedly a positive development, the report also outlines certain areas in need of improvement.

Perhaps most disappointingly, the same report gave California an “F” on affordability of care. This is mainly because we do not have enough regulatory oversight over pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs), the middlemen who employ secretive pricing practices that drive up treatment costs for patients and care

The good news is that we are seeing strides to improve affordability for our state. In Sacramento, a bill (AB 315) was recently
enacted to establish a new regulatory structure for PBMs that would go a long way towards making medications more affordable for my patients and millions of others around the state. But there’s no reason to stop there. People should continue to strive for healthy living. Lifestyle changes, including diet, exercise, and mental wellbeing are three important factors in health. In my rheumatology clinics, we often discuss transitioning to an anti-inflammatory diet, imitating a mild exercise routine, and ensuring close mental health monitoring. Additional changes to consider introducing include yoga, tai-chi, meditation, and cognitive behavioral therapy. While medications are key in treating rheumatic diseases, it is the whole person that needs to be treated.

Patients should continue to stay informed about how they can best advocate for their care by visiting the SimpleTasks Advocacy Center  and connecting with @ACRSimpleTasks and @ACRheum on social media. By raising awareness and urging public officials to enact policies that expand care access and affordability, we can raise the grade on rheumaology care for the millions of individuals across California – and the country – living with rheumatic diseases.

Vaneet K. Sandhu, MD
ACR Physician Ambassador