If you have multiple sclerosis (MS) and do not have health insurance, it is important to evaluate your options for enrolling in a health insurance program. Health insurance will help cover the costs of your medications, treatment for relapses, rehabilitation, durable medical equipment and devices, and potential hospitalizations. It is more difficult to find medical care — especially affordable medical care — if you do not have health insurance.
If you are uninsured, there are several different public health insurance programs that you may qualify for. You may check your eligibility for health insurance through Medicaid, a state-run program that provides health insurance to individuals, families, and children that are considered low-income. If you are over 65 or receive Social Security disability benefits, you may qualify to receive health insurance through Medicare. If you do not qualify for either of these programs, you may check your eligibility for an individual health insurance plan through the public health insurance marketplace.
If you do not qualify for a public program, there are private health insurance plans available, such as job-based health insurance if you or your spouse are employed. You may also enroll directly in a private health insurance plan, though this is a more costly option.
If you cannot get health insurance coverage through any of these programs and are uninsured, several other programs aim to help cover the costs of medications and medical treatment for MS.
If you already have a prescription for a medication and need help paying for it, your state may offer financial assistance programs. Contact your state department of insurance to check if it has such a program for prescription medications.
There are various other public and private programs that offer some type of financial support for affording MS treatments and prescription drugs, including the following:
Prescription drugs need to be prescribed by a doctor. If you do not have insurance, it may be difficult to see a physician to get a new prescription or a refill for your MS. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society recommends that you contact your physician’s office to ask for a reduced rate or a payment plan to help you pay for a visit. For these requests, you may speak directly to your doctor — or to the billing specialist or office manager.
Affording medical care without insurance is a significant hurdle. Below are strategies for accessing a neurologist, medical tests, and hospital care.
If you are uninsured and need to see a doctor or specialist — like a neurologist — you may try contacting them or their billing specialist about options. They may offer discounted rates or payment programs to help cover the cost of co-pays.
If you are uninsured and your doctor orders you an MRI scan, the MRI Access Fund — offered through the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America — may help cover the costs.
The Multiple Sclerosis Foundation also has an MS Focus Healthcare Assistance Grant program for uninsured people with MS who need help paying for visits to a doctor or MS specialist. The grant is meant to assist people already diagnosed with MS and covers the cost of one visit and one follow-up for MS-specific care. You can apply online or email firstname.lastname@example.org to start the application process. To learn more about the grant, call 1-888-673-6287.
Hospital care without insurance can be expensive, though an emergency room will not turn you away due to your inability to pay for medical services. Emergency rooms are required by law to stabilize a person in a time of emergency. To help cover the costs of emergency care at a hospital, ask the hospital’s business manager or someone from the billing department about the provider’s policies for the uninsured. Inquire if there are discounted rates or payment plans to help you afford the cost of care.
Some states have medical facilities that offer free or reduced-cost health care for those who meet certain low-income requirements. Called Hill-Burton facilities, they include hospitals, nursing homes, and clinics that provide free or low-cost health care based on a person’s income. You can check your eligibility and view a list of Hill-Burton facilities through the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) website. You may only receive services under the Hill-Burton program if you are uninsured. Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries do not qualify for this program.
People with MS often need durable medical equipment to maintain their independence and quality of life, including walkers, wheelchairs, and assistive technology devices such as hearing aids and adaptive keyboards. If you are living with MS, are uninsured, and don’t have the funds to purchase or rent equipment, you may be able to borrow or use donated devices. Always test out any equipment or device before using it. Your local Center for Independent Living is a good resource for connecting you to donated or loaned equipment.
If you are uninsured and need nonemergency medical care, consider looking into government-funded community health centers throughout the United States that provide affordable health care services. These centers may provide services, including primary care and preventive care services like screenings, diagnosis, and management of chronic conditions. However, the types and number of services offered at each center vary. You may find a health center near you by using the HSRA’s health center lookup tool or by calling 888-ASK-HRSA.
The National Multiple Sclerosis Society offers information and resources for people who have MS and who are uninsured. The organization provides free guidance and has experts — called MS Navigators — to help you with questions and concerns about your condition and health care. The society aims to provide assistance — and possibly financial assistance if needed. Contact the National Multiple Sclerosis Society online, via email at NMSS@nmss.org, or by phone at 1-800-344-4867 to have a conversation about financial assistance and navigating your different finance and care options.
MyMSTeam is the social network for people with multiple sclerosis and their loved ones. On MyMSTeam, more than 167,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with multiple sclerosis.
Are you uninsured and living with MS? Have you had success securing assistance with covering medical costs? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.