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MainStreet is on a mission to help you find organizations that can improve your daily life while also helping your budget. We profile charities that help worthy causes while at the same time saving you money and/or advocating on your behalf.

This week, we look at organizations that help people with multiple sclerosis (and their families).

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic disease that affects the central nervous system. One of the most devastating aspects of this disease is the variety of symptoms that can strike from out of nowhere and can come and go unpredictably. Patients may feel fine one day, be unable to walk the next, and find themselves partially or totally blind the following day.

Because of this unpredictable nature of MS, patients often find it difficult to hold a job or maintain their normal daily routine. The unpredictable nature of the condition also results in a range of expenses both from treatments and earnings losses. According to one study, the lifetime cost per person with MS can be $2.2 million. According to another report, new treatments can cost $12,000 per year or more. Fortunately there are ways to offset the costs of MS. Here are some organizations that can help:

National Multiple Sclerosis Society: The MS Society has more than 60 chapters serving a total of more than a million people. Their services and programs vary by location. Some larger chapters provide direct financial assistance, while others focus their efforts mainly on connecting clients with other existing community resources. The organization is also very active in educational and advocacy efforts. Iin 2008 alone, it provided nearly $50 million in support of 440 MS research projects. 

The Multiple Sclerosis Association of America: MSAA runs several programs. Their MRI Diagnostic Fund (run in conjunction with the MRI Institute) covers the cost of an MRI (which can cost between $400 to $2,000, or more) used to make an initial MS diagnosis. Their Equipment Distribution Program provides items that MS patients need for safety and convenience, while the Cooling Equipment Distribution Program provides items to reduce symptoms from heat sensitivity.

Multiple Sclerosis Foundation: “When MS patients need services [they] can’t afford, we are there to assist them, either by providing the service or connecting them to an organization that can,” says Kasey Minnis, MSF’s director of operations. Among the MSF’s main programs are:

  • Home Care grants for light housekeeping, meal preparation, transportation and respite services. Short-term physical, occupational or speech therapy may be arranged, as needed.
  • Patient Assistance Program provides one-time emergency assistance for bills necessary to the patient’s safety, self-sufficiency, or well-being. Items eligible for one-time assistance include rent, utilities, urgent repairs, etc.
  • Assistive Technology program provides a wide range of mobility and safety aids including portable ramps, wheelchairs, hand controls, speaker phones, leg braces, eyeglasses and more.
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If someone needs help obtaining medications, Minnis says the MSF usually tries to match the patient up with programs run by the drug companies, but will occasionally fill in to cover the cost of needed meds during a gap in coverage. To contact them, call 888-673-6287. The toll-free helpline is staffed by caseworkers from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Eastern time.

NORD’s MS Co-Payment Assistance Program: NORD, the National Organization for Rare Disorders, provides up to several thousand dollars per year to cover the costs of co-pays for MS meds. Call 800-634-7207 for more information.

The Multiple Sclerosis Resource Page: This is a collaborative project of NeedyMeds and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. It is intended to provide information on multiple sclerosis and to streamline and simplify the way those with MS may find assistance paying for their medications.

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