Getting Help Paying for Your MS Drugs

With the recent approval of the multiple sclerosis drug Ocrevus, I’ve again heard the plea “but how can I afford it?” Ocrevus carries a price tag of about $65,000 a year. That’s not high compared to some other MS drugs, but it can still mean a higher co-pay than some patients with insurance can afford. And it can appear to be totally unaffordable for those without coverage. Unless you know how to get help with those drug costs.

About six months ago I wrote about the programs that various drug companies and foundations have to assist MS patients in paying for their drug. With lots of folks looking for that help I thought it would be a good idea to review some of what’s out there.

Payment help from MS drug manufacturers

In the U.S., many drug companies have programs to provide their high-costing MS drugs to patients at a deep discount or, in some cases, for free. For Ocrevus, drug manufacturer Genentech has a number of options. For other MS drugs, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society has an excellent, drug by drug, list of these programs on its website. I recommend checking it as a first stop in your search for help.

But there are rules regulating this practice in the U.S. and they don’t make a lot of sense from a patient’s viewpoint. Here’s how they work. If you have prescription drug insurance, either through your employer or as an individual, a drug company is allowed to reduce the amount of your co-pay for their drug.  When I was still working full-time, I was prescribed the drug Ampyra. At that time the average wholesale price for a 90-day supply of Ampyra was about $1,000 a month.  My insurance covered about 50% of that, so I was left with an unaffordable co-pay of about $500 a month for a drug that was really helping me walk. Fortunately, I was able to take advantage of Acorda’s patient assistance program to limit my co-pay to no more than $40 a month, and I was able to continue on that drug.

Then I retired and moved from my employer’s drug insurance plan to Medicare Part D (the section of Medicare that pays for prescription drugs).  But, under the Medicare rules, drug companies aren’t allowed to pay-down the co-pay, as they do with private insurance. They must either provide the drug totally free of charge to a patient or they can’t provide any assistance at all.  And, to receive that no-cost benefit the patient’s income must be under a certain limit. My retirement income was too high to get the drug for free, but I still couldn’t afford the big jump from a $40 co-pay to $500 a month, so I had to go off the drug.

But, there’s another way …

Help from foundations

A foundation is the good place to turn when you have private insurance or Medicare, you’re still stuck with a high co-pay and the drug company is unable to help. It takes patience and good timing to obtain help from these non-profits, but it can be worth the effort. If you qualify for the help (there’s still an income ceiling but it’s usually fairly high), a foundation will approve a monetary grant for you. The grant will cover your co-pays and be paid directly to the pharmacy that’s providing your drugs for a specific amount of time, usually a year.

At one time I was receiving a grant of $6,000 a year from a foundation which covered all of my co-pays for Aubagio for that year…a significant out-of-pocket savings. Some of these foundations limit their grants to people on Medicare, while others also include patients with private insurance. A list of some foundations that will pay for MS drugs can be found at the bottom of the National MS Society webpage that I mentioned earlier.

You’ll need patience and good timing to travel this route. The foundations help patients with many different diseases and they can quickly run out of money for a specific disease until new donations are received. The problem is, the foundations don’t announce when their coffers are replenished. So, you need to check their websites, or call them, as frequently as possible to see if they have new money, and then apply quickly when they do.

 

MS through the eyes of a “20-something” rapper

I’m an old guy and it’s been a looonnng time since I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Not so for a young man named BJ Baker.

BJ is in his late 20s and he was having a very bad day the other day. He was too tired to do a (seemingly) simple cleaning job around the house. So, he vented in the way that other young MS patients would understand. BJ used to write wrap music, so he vented in rap poem. Here’s what he posted on the “We’re Not Drunk, We Have MS!” Facebook group. When you read this try to do it with a “rap” rhythm.

“As ur body weakens and muscles soften, starting a project and not finshing unfortunately happens often.
As you get older and age no worries thats to be expected, but when ur 27 that shit gets to be perplexin.
With M.S. its one thing after another as i try to not be a bother, as i go back in time thru my brother and see the future through my father.
no to camping trips, bonfires, outside parties being mean isnt my intention, its just the night blindness, numbness, lack of balance,  make me the center of attention.
First dates for closeness but not super pushin for a 2nd, i enjoyed ur company u were very pleasant.
Not trying to be a jerk dates are fun and thats for certain, but how do you jump into a relationship already feeling like a burden.
Sometimes i lay in the dark all day pretending not to hear my phone, i desperately want company but feel im supposed to be alone.
Laying here typing rhymes after being beaten by a chore has feelings  coming to the surface, the M.S. fog has me forgetting this poems purpose.
As ur body weakens and muscles soften, starting a project and not finishing unfortunately happens often.
As you get older and age thats to be expected but when ur 27 that shit gets to be perplexin.”

I’m not sure what to suggest to someone 40 years younger than me about what to do when “shit gets to be perplexin.” Fortunately, my MS progressed slowly and I was able to do what I needed to do, including working full-time, for many years after I was diagnosed at age 32.

It’s not a rap, but my philosophy is simple: Even a pair of deuces can be a winning hand if you play it right.

So, yo…

As I get older my act’s gotta get bolder. Alone would be perplexin’, I gotta do more flexin’. Not gonna make excuses. Not even for my deuces. My future is my makin’, no time for any fakin’. It really ain’t perplexin’.

****

(This post first appeared as my column on http://www.multiplesclerosisnewstoday.com)

(Photo: Mathys Cresson)

 

 

 

 

ICYM My Facebook Live Chat

We had a great live chat, today, on the MS News Today Facebook page.

I had the pleasure of talking about my MS experiences and answering over 200 questions for about an hour.  ICYMI, you can click here to see the video.

More of these live chats are planned in the future, so stay tuned.

 

I’m Talking About MS Live on Facebook!

I’ll be live today, Monday April 24th, on the Multiple Sclerosis News Today Facebook page to talk with you about my experiences with MS. I hope you’ll join me at 5pm edt / 9pm gmt and bring your questions.

 

 

Is it Time to Treat Your MS to a Scooter Ride?

To scoot or not to scoot? Is is better to drag your legs around for as long as you can or to give in and get yourself a set of electric wheels?

That decision prompted this vent on a multiple sclerosis Facebook group recently:

“I’m just wondering if anyone has this happen to them. Every time I go to the store I have someone roll up on me in their electric scooter and tell me I need to get one. Every time my response is the same “I refuse to use one until I absolutely have no other choice” and then they shake their head at me like I’m crazy. Granted I know how I look pushing my walker (which I refused to use for a long time and just clutched onto walls) and dragging my dead weight of a right leg behind me, red faced and sweating with the effort, but for now I am able to walk so I do, is that really such a bad thing?”

For many years I felt the same way as that writer. It took one tripping fall too many, however, to convince me to find some walking help. I began using a cane; first a fold-up, used only occasionally, then a nice looking wooden cane that I used all the time. That was in the late 1990s, close to twenty years after first being diagnosed with MS.

I started using a scooter in the summer of 2000, when a colleague suggested that I rent one to get around the large Staples Center in Los Angeles, and Philadelphia’s First Union Center (now the Wells Fargo Center), while covering the political conventions being held in those cities. Riding, rather than walking, gave me the mobility that I needed to do my job. I scooted whenever I was at those venues and at the the end of each long working day I parked, plugged the scooter into its charger and walked out of the convention center. Without using the scooter someone probably would have had to have carried me out.

Four years later, my wife convinced me to buy a scooter of my own. My Pride Sonic (now called a “Go-Go”) separated into 4 parts. The heaviest was about GoGo-Sport-3W-Red40 pounds so I could disassemble the scooter, throw it into the back of my SUV and take it to work with me. That gave me two benefits, I could move around our news bureau, which covered 3 large floors, faster than anyone else and I also saved a ton of personal energy.

That Sonic also came along on cruises to Alaska and the Mediterranean with my wife and I but, eventually, it became too heavy and cumbersome to travel with.  So, enter the TravelScoot. This is a 35 pound scooter that can be folded

Two scooters

With another cruise passenger in Dubrovnik

like a baby stroller. I can ride it right to an aircraft door where it’s stowed, folded in a coat closet or unfolded in the cargo bay, and it’s returned to me at the door when we arrive. I still use a larger scooter, now a Go-Go, around town and to walk our dog. (And when we go grocery shopping, my wife rides the Go-Go and I ride the TravelScoot). But the TravelScoot is, as the name suggests, primarily my travel scooter. It’s wheeled me around the ruins of Ephesus, Turkey and been “tendered” from a cruise ship onto the shore at Santorini, Greece. 

I’m not advocating for a particular brand of scooter. An on-line search will turn up dozens, at prices ranging from around $900 to $4,500 or so. And you’ll probably have to pay for it yourself. Unless your doctor will certify that you need an electric scooter to get around in your house it’s unlikely that Medicare, Medicaid or your insurance will pay for it in the U.S.

I am, however, advocating that you not allow pride, vanity or a strict “use it or lose it” philosophy to stand in the way of getting yourself some wheels. It really helped to make me more independent and it made a big difference in the qualify of my life.

—-

(This post first appeared as my column on http://www.multiplesclerosisnewstoday.com)

 

Some FAQs about the Bioness “L300 Go”

(This is a sightly updated version of a column of mine that first appeared on http://www.multiplesclerosisnewstoday.com)

Earlier this year Bioness announced that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had cleared its new “L300 Go” functional electronic stimulator (FES). It’s an upgrade of the original “L300” that I’ve been using for more than five years. Without the “L300” strapped to my left leg it’s difficult for me to walk more than 25 or 30 steps, even with two canes.

The “L300” sends a low-intensity electrical pulse down a nerve that runs from my knee to my ankle each time I begin trying to lift my left leg to walk. That pulse forces my foot to flex upward from my ankle, so my toes don’t drag. (What the docs call “foot drop“). The electrical pulse replaces the signal from my brain to my ankle that’s blocked by my MS.

When Bioness recently announced the FDA clearance of the “L300 Go” a news article was published on the Multiple Sclerosis News Today web site. That story generated several questions from readers, who wanted a better understanding of the “L300 Go” and how it’s different from the “L300.” So, I’ve been in touch with the folks at Bioness and will try to answer some of the questions that I’ve seen posted.

What’s the difference between the “L300” and the “L300 Go?”

As I understand it, the “L300 Go” allows a therapist to use 3-D motion detection system to better adjust an “L300” to make it more responsive to a person’s gait. The 3-D motion detection seems to be the most important new feature. This motion detection system also allows “L300 Go” to be used without the sensor that the “L300” requires to be placed your shoe.  That means you’re able to change shoes without having to move a sensor, and even use the device barefoot! (A competitive device, called the “WalkAide,” has had this feature since it came on the market around the same time as the “L300”). The “L300 Go”also responds to motion somewhat faster than the “L300.”

I’ve been using the L300. Does FDA clearance mean that Medicare and insurance will now pay for it?

The FDA clearance was for a new product, the “L300 Go.” The “L300” was cleared by the FDA in the U.S., and received European Commission approval several years ago. The recent clearance doesn’t change the fact that, though Medicare has approved the L300 for use by spinal cord injury patients, and at least one nervous system disease, Medicare has never approved the “L300” for use by MS patients. As we all know, insurance companies aren’t likely to approve something that Medicare hasn’t approved.

Will Medicare pay for the “L300” for MS patients in the future?

A spokesperson for Bioness tells me that “veterans and their families already have access to our technology as a covered benefit through the Veteran’s Administration. We continue to work with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), as well as private/commercial insurance companies, to expand coverage criteria to include more of their beneficiaries.”

Will the price of the “L300” drop now?

I doubt it. I haven’t seen what the price will be for the “L300 Go,” (if that’s even been determined), but Bioness has said it will give a price break to current “L300” users who want to “upgrade.”

Why do you say the FDA “cleared” the “L300 Go,” rather than “approved” it?

It’s a technicality. The FDA “approves” new drugs but it “clears” the use of new medical equipment. Don’t ask me why.

 

Talk With Your MS Doc About Keeping Your Job

(This first appeared as my column on www.multiplesclerosisnewstoday.com)

You probably talk about multiple sclerosis (MS) symptoms, drugs and therapies when you meet with your neurologist, but I’ll bet that most people don’t talk very much about working. Being able to work, and continuing to hold down a job, is important. I see concerns about this all the time on the online forums where we MS patients hang out. Work should be a part of that medical discussion.

In Europe, two organizations have teamed up to encourage medical providers to speak with their MS patients about working and their jobs, and they’ve created a program help them do that. The Work Foundation and the European Multiple Sclerosis Platform (EMSP) call it “Promoting Positive Work Outcomes for Europeans with MS,” (and I’m sure they won’t mind if this American spreads the word outside of the EU). The groups believe that supporting people in their working lives — something they call “workability” — should become a priority outcome of clinical care. The program focuses on four areas:

  • The work-focused nature of conversations between clinicians and people living with MS.
  • The challenges and barriers faced by people living with MS who wish to find jobs, keep them or return to work.
  • The quality of jobs available to people with MS and the practical steps employers can take to create fulfilling work.
  • The “workability” status, which includes economic, clinical and social benefits for wider society, including healthcare systems, small and big employers, and people with MS as well as their careers.

Talking about workability

An important aspect of this program is getting doctors and others who treat MS to talk with their patients about workability. The coalition’s guide is called “Why and how should HCPs talk to people with MS about work?” and it starts out: “Many people with MS would like to work and see it as a valuable part of their recovery. But they face a number of health and social barriers to achieving this ambition.”

The booklet reviews subjects such as why it’s important for healthcare professionals to talk with their MS patients about work, how to manage their symptoms on the job, and when and how to disclose an MS diagnosis to an employer. Though the guide is designed for medical professionals, it’s also useful for MS patients to read. It also contains lots of facts and conversation-starters.

The working numbers aren’t good

Among those facts: In Europe only 26 to 42 percent of MS patients are working, 60 to 80 percent lose their jobs within 15 years of the onset of MS, up to a third retire early and an estimated 17 percent get fired by their employers. I haven’t been able to locate comparable figures for the United States or elsewhere, but I have to believe they’re no better. Obviously, there’s a need for medical professionals to include a discussion, and suggestions, about how MS patients can handle this “workability” problem in their treatment plans.

Do you have a “workability” experience or suggestion? Please share it in a comment. The more we talk about it, the more we can improve how we all fare in the workplace.