Objective: To assess whether increased short-acting β(2)-adrenergic agonist (SABA) claims are associated with asthma exacerbations and increased healthcare costs.
Study design: Cross-sectional study.
Methods: Patients (N = 93,604) were health plan members aged 6-56 years with at least 2 years of enrollment between July 1, 2003, and June 30, 2007, an asthma diagnosis, and at least 1 asthma medication claim per study year. Two years of administrative claims were collected. SABA use was categorized as 0 (none), (1/2) to 2 (low), 2(1/2) to 6 (moderate), 6(1/2) to 12 (high), and more than 12 (excessive) canister equivalents per year. Multivariate analyses were adjusted for age, sex, geographic region, comorbidities, specialist consultation, controller medication use, and asthma severity.
Results: Half of high and excessive SABA users had few or no controller claims. Compared with SABA nonusers, high and excessive SABA users had significantly higher odds (odds ratio [95% confidence interval]) of asthma-related emergency department/urgent care visits (6.47 [5.25, 7.98] and 7.68 [6.04, 9.76], respectively), hospitalizations (5.37 [6.04, 9.76]; 6.90 [4.90, 9.73]), and oral corticosteroid use (2.89 [2.72, 3.08]; 3.71 [3.41, 4.03]). Excessive SABA users had 3.0 times ($1791) and high SABA users had 2.2 times ($1326) higher asthma-related healthcare costs than low SABA users ($595). Total costs also increased with higher SABA use, but with smaller incremental differences between excessive and high SABA users and low SABA users.
Conclusions: Increased SABA use is associated with higher total and asthma-related healthcare costs. Opportunity exists to lessen overreliance on SABAs.