A comparison of 4-year total medical care costs, adverse outcomes, and opioid/prescription analgesic use for 3 knee osteoarthritis pain treatments: Intra-articular hyaluronic acid, intra-articular corticosteroids, and knee arthroplasty

Semin Arthritis Rheum. 2020 Dec;50(6):1525-1534. doi: 10.1016/j.semarthrit.2020.01.003. Epub 2020 Jan 17.


Objectives: To compare the medical costs associated with treatments for knee osteoarthritis (OA): intra-articular corticosteroids (ICS) and intra-articular hyaluronic acid (IHA) primarily, and ICS/IHA vs knee arthroplasty (TKA) secondarily.

Methods: This was a retrospective analysis of an insurance claims database. Eligible members had diagnosed OA and no claims for ICS, IHA, or TKA during the 6-18-month look-back period. Cohorts of interest over the 4-year observation period were: patients who received ICS only, those who received IHA only, and those who received TKA only. Outcomes assessed included: (1) total allowed medical costs, (2) claims for pre-specified, treatment-related adverse outcomes and costs, and (3) opioid and/or prescription analgesic use and costs. Data extraction began on the date of the first ICS, IHA, or TKA in 2013 until December 31, 2017.

Results: Of the 260,828 patients who qualified, 126,831 were taking monotherapy (IHA=3703, ICS=117,588, TKA = 5540). Adjusted 4-year per patient per month (PPPM) costs were lowest in the IHA cohort ($733); PPPM costs were $1230 in the ICS cohort and $1548 in the TKA cohort. A smaller percentage of patients in the IHA (7.1%) vs ICS (8.4%) or TKA cohort (11.8%) experienced any of the pre-specified adverse outcomes. Adverse outcome-related costs in the IHA cohort were lower ($19.91) than costs in the ICS ($32.18) and TKA cohorts ($31.12). Per-patient opioid and analgesic prescriptions were consistently and significantly lower in the IHA (range, 0.70-0.96) vs ICS cohort (range, 2.0-2.26) for Years 1 through 4. Usage rates were significantly lower in the IHA cohort vs TKA cohort in Year 1 (0.96 vs 4.77) and not different in Years 2 through 4 (TKA range, 0.76-1.08). In Year 1, opioid and prescription analgesic costs were significantly lower in the IHA vs ICS and TKA cohorts ($3.45 vs $11.14 and $12.82). After Year 1, opioid and prescription analgesic costs were significantly higher in the ICS (range, $13.83-15.96) vs IHA (range, $3.02-3.87) and TKA cohorts (range, $3.43-4.97).

Conclusions: Patients in the IHA cohort had lower total medical care costs, fewer adverse outcomes, and lower use/costs of opioids and prescription analgesics vs patients in the ICS and TKA cohorts. Reducing total medical care costs and minimizing opioid/analgesic use should be a treatment goal when selecting therapies for patients with knee OA.

Keywords: Intra-articular corticosteroids; Intra-articular hyaluronic acid; Knee arthroplasty; Knee osteoarthritis; Pain treatments.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / therapeutic use
  • Analgesics, Opioid / therapeutic use
  • Arthroplasty, Replacement, Knee*
  • Health Care Costs
  • Humans
  • Hyaluronic Acid / therapeutic use
  • Osteoarthritis, Knee* / drug therapy
  • Osteoarthritis, Knee* / surgery
  • Pain
  • Prescriptions
  • Retrospective Studies


  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones
  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Hyaluronic Acid