Copay assistance programs can be blessings for patients who cannot afford to pay for prescribed medications despite insurance coverage. Frequently, drug manufacturers are able to provide financial help directly to patients in need. To access manufacturer-sponsored programs, visit the brand website for the MS drug which you have been prescribed.
For patients who do not quality for manufacturer programs (perhaps due to insurance coverage through government programs such as Medicare), the following non-profit organizations offer additional help paying for medications. Some of these programs even offer financial help with insurance premiums and transportation costs to obtain treatment.
In general, to participate in these programs, the patient must have valid medical insurance that covers the prescribed medication, which in turn must be included on the program formulary; and the patient must meet annual household income criteria established by each program.
My journey with MS has had some significant ups and downs. Some of the downs include blindness, complete loss of use of two fingers on my left hand (which is devastating to a classically-trained pianist and teacher), weak arms and legs, all over numbness, impaired balance, fatigue, spasticity, anxiety, and depression.
I’ve been enjoying more of the ups in recent years; really since I switched medication to rituximab (a monoclonal antibody therapy used for RA, lymphoma, and other autoimmune diseases, which should be released in a new form and approved for MS sometime in the next year as ocrelizumab).
After switching medications from Copaxone to Rituxan I began to experience actual improvement in symptoms over time. Functions got better and relapses more infrequent. In fact, I hadn’t had a serious relapse that prompted me to call the neurology office in between routine visits in 50 months. Minor bumps, sure, but nothing big.
The road to diagnosis for MS can be long and winding for many patients. I’m happy for patients who receive their official diagnosis within just a few doctors’ visits. Not happy that they have MS, but happy that they can jump right in and get on with things; attacking the beast with medication, therapy, and determination.
For those of us who are not immediately diagnosed with MS, the feelings involved with the ‘not knowing for sure’ can be frustrating. Especially disturbing is when you suspect that your doctors do not believe you or your symptoms. The worst part may be when there is some clinical evidence that ‘something’ is not quite right, maybe there are lesions in the brain and obvious neurological symptoms, but your tests do not meet the standard diagnostic criteria for an official MS diagnosis.
That’s when the waiting game begins.
I was one of those patients who didn’t receive an immediate diagnosis. In fact, it took more than five years from what was my first obvious and debilitating attack (blinding optic neuritis) to the relapse that prompted additional testing that led to a diagnosis.
When I was around 20 years old, I had hopes that I would complete college, marry my sweetheart, and that we would have 3 kids before we turned 30. It was a nice dream, but instead I went to graduate school, we broke up, and I continued on to a doctoral program after completing my Master’s degree in Music Performance. Serious relationships took a backseat.
Just before turning 30 years of age, I moved to the Washington, DC, area to check out the performance opportunities. I wasn’t concerned with finding ‘the right man’ and starting a family, instead I was working on building a successful freelance career which was really picking up nicely when I first experienced an attack of optic neuritis. Until I was diagnosed with MS five years later, things were moving along smoothly.
Shortly before the MS diagnosis, I was introduced to ‘the guy.’ Of course I didn’t know that Rob would become ‘the guy’ until I had known him for a little while. Rob was there when the MS diagnosis became official; he was there for lots of tears and hugs; and he was there when I woke up in the middle of the night screaming and crying in pain from early RA symptoms.
I was 38 when I was finally diagnosed with RA and one of the first things we (my doctor and I) did was begin a medication for which pregnancy was strongly warned against (ie., methotrexate). This was a little late in life to consider starting a family, but it wasn’t TOO late. Women are having children even in their 40s nowadays.
Sometime after my RA symptoms were brought under control, I did run a small experiment to see whether or not I might consider going off treatment to prepare for a potential pregnancy. I stopped taking my methotrexate for a short period of time. Unfortunately, it was only a matter of 2-3 weeks before symptoms began to return. Knowing how AWFUL the pre-diagnosis, no-treatment time period was for me, I started back on methotrexate immediately.
Oh man, now I really feel bad. My husband had to stay home from work today…sick. He’s finally caught whatever crummy bug I’ve been dealing with over the past several weeks. He’s miserable. Now it’s my turn to help take care of him.
The past month has been a bad one for being sick. First, I developed some type of infection with a fever that caused me to become a sweaty, achy mess with lymph nodes that had doubled in size. Since my body temperature normally stays in the 96-97 degree range, it was quite uncomfortable when my fever approached 100 F. But my body seemed to do what it’s supposed to do and took care of the problem. I was sick for less than a week and never did identify the source of the infection. No GI problems, no congestion. Just a high fever.
About a week later I developed an earache. Not too bad of an earache, but definitely present. On day three of the mild earache, my throat started burning and I could hardly swallow. I finally called the doctor and tested negative for strep throat. Her diagnosis: a cold. Congestion began that evening.
Now it’s been two weeks since I saw the doctor and I’m still not over this cold virus. I’ve been coughing, dripping, congesting, sneezing, aching, sleeping, humidifying, chicken-souping, and tissuing my way through the days and nights.
I finally started to feel a little better over the weekend, just in time for my husband to start feeling like he was getting sick. Uh oh. His is a dry cough while I’m still congested. He’s sticking with chicken soup and clementines, while I felt good enough to bake cookies yesterday and do laundry.
I am amazed at how much health can change dramatically in one year.
Last fall, I was in excruciating pain from osteoarthritis. After learning that I have grade 2-3 cartilage loss in the left knee, my orthopedic doctor gave me three hyaluronic acid injections to help ease the pain. He also suggested that the only truly effective way to get better was to ride my exercise bike.
My rheumatologist (the one who just retired) was kind enough to order physical therapy for me so that I could receive expert guidance on what types of activities I should be doing to delay possible knee surgery in the future. She also suggested that I consider weight loss surgery because being morbidly obese was not helpful.
Slowly, I began to ride the exercise bike at home more frequently and for longer periods of time. My physical therapist worked with me for two months to build strength and flexibility. She also determined that my knee cap was “frozen” in place which wasn’t helping matters either. Correcting that situation was enormously painful, but worth it in the long run.
Around the same time, I began to honestly assess what I was eating, document meals and snacks, and use my FitBit to monitor activity. I started slow but began to lose weight after a couple of months. I noticed that if I continued to exercise and document everything, I continued to lose weight. One month that I couldn’t ride the exercise bike the scale didn’t move as much, which strengthens the message that a combination of diet and exercise is most effective for weight loss/management.
Over the course of one year, I was able to drop 54 pounds (and still counting). The pain in my knees is almost a non-issue as long as I continue with the at-home plan my physical therapist created. I have achieved actual remission of my RA, which is different than low-disease activity or near remission. And, I feel pretty doggone good.