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China is actively promoting regulation of rare diseases, rare disease and orphan drugs have been formally incorporated into the national planning. However, few studies have been done to evaluate the affordability of rare disease patients in China. This study aims to provide policy recommendations for the establishment of social security mechanism for rare diseases in China, so as to address the problem of poverty caused by these diseases.
A total of 7 rare diseases were selected by Delphi method. Affordability of treatment for the 7 rare diseases was assessed through annual per capital income, catastrophic expenditure and impoverishment expenditure among urban and rural residents in China.
Assessed through annual per capital income, health expenditure for the 7 rare diseases are all rather high. The highest health expenditure is equivalent to income of 69.34 years of one urban resident, and the burden is heavier for rural residents. Through catastrophic expenditure assessment, proportions of the population experiencing catastrophic expenditure caused by the 7 rare diseases are all under 0.167 ‰. However, once one is ill and taking medications, he will suffer from catastrophic health expenditure. Through impoverishment expenditure assessment, the proportions of impoverishment payment are low among both urban and rural residents, but the 7 rare diseases could lead nearly 4.6 million people into poverty on a national scale.
The affordability of treatment for rare disease as well as orphan drugs is rather poor. Residents of different income levels all have difficulties to afford the treatment for rare diseases, so poverty caused by rare diseases is quite widespread. Therefore, social security mechanism for rare disease patients should be established and specific payment pattern for orphan drugs should be set up.