About Samantha Schech

I am a Client Service Specialist here at MSAA. I have my Master's Degree in Social Service from Bryn Mawr College, a school just outside of Philadelphia. Originally from the Baltimore area, I am a huge Baltimore sports fan and am often heard cheering for the Ravens and Orioles. In my spare time, I enjoy cooking, traveling, and playing kickball with my friends in an adult sports league.

Beat the Heat this Summer

Spring has sprung, or so they say; and while the first day of spring brought some cold weather and snow to some parts of the country, others are starting to think about the warm weather months. It is known that individuals with multiple sclerosis (MS) can be affected by the heat. The slightest increase in body temperature can intensify MS symptoms.

For those with this type of heat sensitivity, the spring and summer months can be a challenge. While family and friends start planning outdoor events and activities, individuals with heat sensitivity question what they will do all summer long.

Cooling products are designed to be used during these warmer months. Ice pack style cooling products allow an individual to place specially designed ice packs into a garment that is worn on the body. Through cooling technology, the body is provided with a safe cooling temperature that helps to reduce overheating.

MSAA offers a program for those who are income eligible to provide these ice pack style cooling products and accessories. For more information regarding this program, please visit the MSAA website at http://mymsaa.org/msaa-help/cooling/.

For those who may not be eligible for assistance through the MSAA program, the manufactures of these cooling items provide products and accessories that can be purchased. Visit Polar Products and Steele Body Cooling, and remember to let them know that MSAA referred you. There may be a discount offer available!

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Health Insurance Marketplace: Special Enrollment Period

As individuals prepare their taxes for the 2014 year, many who did not purchase or enroll in a qualified health plan may be facing the penalty fee. According to the HealthCare.gov website, if you did not have health insurance coverage in 2014, you will be responsible for the higher of these two amounts:

1% of your yearly household income. (Only the amount of income above the tax filing threshold, about $10,000 for an individual, is used to calculate the penalty.)
$95 per person for the year ($47.50 per child under 18). The maximum penalty per family using this method is $285.

On February 15th the Marketplace closed for enrollment in 2015 plans, leaving those who did not enroll to face a penalty again when filing taxes next year. The Health Insurance Marketplace is providing individuals and families who owe the fee when they file their 2014 taxes with one last chance to get covered for 2015 to avoid a future penalty for the 2015 tax year.

While the fee for the 2014 year cannot be avoided, this special enrollment period offers individuals another chance to possibly avoid a future fee.

For those interested in enrolling, visit The Health Insurance Marketplace website at https://www.healthcare.gov/screener/. This special enrollment period is only available through April 30th.

References:
https://www.healthcare.gov/fees-exemptions/fee-for-not-being-covered/

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Spreading Awareness: Advocating for Client Needs

This week, in honor of MS Awareness Month, I spoke with a group of nursing students at Rutgers University in New Jersey regarding chronic illness and the role nurses play in patient advocacy and referral. This event highlights the importance of spreading awareness and educating those working directly with individuals affected by this disease.

While explaining the various factors associated with MS, we explored a variety of resources available to individuals. Nurses have a unique and valuable role in the medical team – they are often the first person a client sees in a medical team giving them the opportunity to hear and learn the ins and outs of an individual’s life. With this knowledge, nurses have the opportunity to discuss options and make referrals for clients.

It is vital that nurses view themselves as patient advocates and make referrals or speak to the medical team regarding any concerns they may have for the clients care. Some conversations are difficult to have with physicians; clients feel pressure during the short visit and do not get a chance to discuss their concerns. Often times, working closely with a nurse for some of the non-physician or non-medical related concerns can be helpful.

Hopefully the conversation with the nursing students set them up to become better patient advocates in their future roles as nurses!

Have you worked with a nurse for assistance with referrals to organizations or assistance programs? How was that experience for you?

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Communicating about Multiple Sclerosis with Young Children

The diagnosis of a chronic illness such as multiple sclerosis (MS) has the capability to challenge a family on multiple levels. As if the diagnosis of a disease such as MS was easy to explain and discuss with adult friends and family members. Explaining the diverse symptoms of MS to a young child is a new challenge all in itself.

Deciding when to have a conversation with your children regarding the MS diagnosis is a personal decision that every family should discuss. Children are by nature, curious individuals. They may pick up that things have changed, or that Mommy or Daddy is acting differently. Depending on the child, some families may choose to introduce information about the disease early on.

MommyStoryMSAA has published two books to help guide families through this conversation with young children. Mommy’s Story and Daddy’s Story are geared for children age’s three to seven, to provide a starting point for future conversations regarding an MS diagnosis.

For on-going supportive information for children, the National MS Society also publishes a newsletter, Keep S’myelin to provide stories and activities regarding different challenges a parent may face with relation to MS.

If a child appears to have a difficult time with the adjustment to a new diagnosis in a parent, it may be helpful to seek additional professional support. A child therapist can help the child to express some of the fears or concerns that they are having. Different modalities such as art or music therapy can help young children who may not verbally be able to explain how they are feeling.

Do you have young children, and have you spoken with them regarding an MS diagnosis? What resources were helpful to you during this time?

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National Love Your Pet Day

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In honor of National Love Your Pet Day, the “unofficial” national holiday set aside to give extra attention to and pamper your pet that you love every day. This is a good day to focus on the special relationship that you have with your pets.

Having a pet has proven to provide many physical as well as mental benefits. Therapeutically, a pet can lower blood pressure and have a calming effect over an individual, which can lead to diminishing some pain symptoms. Pets also encourage communication (who doesn’t talk to their pet), as well as provide support and comfort.

When feeling anxious or nervous about a new situation, perhaps lean to your pet for support. A pet is a perfect soundboard for thoughts and feelings and even better, they can’t talk back! Maybe there is an uncomfortable topic you wish to discuss with a loved one, try practicing speaking out loud to your pet exactly what you wish to say. The extra practice in expressing your thoughts can provide confidence and re-assurance in the situation.

While your pets can’t role play the situation back with you, having practiced saying a thought or feeling may help alleviate some of the anxiety around the situation. It may also provide you with the opportunity to hear how your words would sound to another person. Have you ever made a comment and then realized ‘that wasn’t what I meant to say.’ Practicing beforehand allows you to make changes to ensure that your message is properly received.

In what ways is your pet a support to you?

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Loving Yourself First

What is love? Webster’s dictionary defines love as “a feeling of strong or constant affection for a person”. After a day like Valentine’s Day, it is hard not to question the concept of love. Perhaps you are in a long term relationship, maybe you have yet to find love, or have just ended a relationship. By definition, love doesn’t solely rely on a relation with another person, it can define the feeling you have for yourself as well.

Truly loving yourself and having the respect for the person that you have become can be a challenge for some. Uncontrollable events occur in life that may change the way that one perceives themselves. Perhaps there are goals or outcomes that seem unmet, or feelings that are unresolved. Coming to a place of understanding and acceptance of the uncontrollable events and embracing the change they may have created is the first step in loving who you are as a person.

By accepting the changes that have occurred, you allow yourself to move forward without any self-doubts or negative thoughts. But this too is a process. One does not wake up one morning and choose to accept the many years of life’s up and downs. Daily affirmations or positive thoughts about your self can be an effective way to practice self-love and acceptance. You can create your own, or utilize one of the many that can be found in books or online.

The Law of Attraction states, “like attracts like”, meaning, what you put out into the world, is what you attract. If you feel positively about yourself and love yourself, you will attract that same level of positive energy in another. When you don’t like yourself, or don’t feel yourself worthy of love, it can be difficult for someone to find that in you as well.

The change to a place of self-acceptance and love cannot occur overnight. If you feel as though you need additional support or help in removing the self-doubts or negative thoughts, a counselor may be able to assist in getting to the root of those feelings. Everyone has a right to be accepted and loved, personally and by others. If possible, seek help from a support group or counselor. It is never too late to make a change.

“The turning point in the process of growing up is when you discover the core of strength within you that survives all hurt” –Max Lerner

References:
http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/love

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Keeping Track of Your MS

We all trust and hope that medical providers keep accurate records and maintain documentation in an orderly fashion. But things happen – papers get misplaced, lost, or destroyed and when this happens, the patient suffers.

So what can be done in advance to reduce the chances of this negative effect?

Keeping track of your medical records is the best way to assure that the information about your MS treatment stays organized. However, this can mean different things to different people. Finding a way to organize and keep your medical records in a way that makes sense to you is important.

Some individuals may find sorting records by year helps to track progression or change over time. While others prefer to sort based on testing or specialty, tracking things such as MRI results, bloodwork, or therapy. No one way is better than another. It is about finding a way that makes sense to you and one that will help you along the way.

Take into account the type of materials needed to organize your medical records. Three-ring binders are helpful in securing documents, making sure they stay in place and are not easily lost. Dividers and tabs can be used to distinguish a change in the record, whether it’s a year, type of test, or doctor. Labels written on with dark marker can be placed on the outside of a binder to help identify what is inside.

Depending on the size of your medical record, bring the record with you to an appointment. It can be used as a reference with the doctor, or can be a place to take notes during a visit. After the appointment, ask the office staff to make a copy of any records discussed at the time of the appointment and place them into the organized medical record.

By keeping track of your medical records, you are taking an active role in your health care. In which way do you keep track of your MS? Which system works best for you?

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Winding Down from the Holidays

As the holiday season comes to a halt, signs of the New Year are all around us. While families are taking down and storing away decorations, stores are preparing for the next holiday. Windows and aisles are filled with red and pink candies, hearts, and flower holding bears. With all of the displays and reminders about Valentine’s Day, it’s hard not to be swept back up into another holiday.

January is typically the month of New Year’s Resolutions, with everyone vowing to make changes or set goals for the new year. January can also be a time for a re-set. Before jumping back into another holiday, take some time to focus on you and do something that you enjoy, or perhaps have put off over the last few months.

Changing the mentality of getting a jump start on the new year to one of sanctity and calm, may be beneficial for people who find themselves getting caught up in the hustle and bustle of life and forgetting to care for themselves.

Take some time during the day, even as little as 10 minutes, to do something that makes you happy. Sometimes even just sitting in a quiet space and taking a few deep breaths can calm you and prepare you for your next task. It is OK to take time for yourself. By doing so, you are allowing your best self to come forward.

How do you plan to care for yourself this year?

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Creating New Memories this Holiday Season

“What if Christmas, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!”
― Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Growing up, one of my favorite activities in school was around learning and exploring new cultures and how they celebrate holidays. Being so young and not yet having a chance to explore the world around me, I found it fascinating that people were different from what I assumed was the norm.

For example, in Germany, December 6th is St. Nicholas’ Day and “der Nikolaus” comes to the home of small children and brings gifts, such as sweets and chocolate, and puts them into the shoes of the children, who place them by their doors the night before. Then on the night of December 24th, Father Christmas brings presents to the children.

In Argentina, families celebrate starting Christmas Eve with a large family meal following with a fireworks display at midnight, toasting to Christmas. Many families stay up late into the night meeting with friends and family, then they will sleep all of Christmas Day.

To celebrate the New Year, people in Greece hang an onion on their door to symbolize rebirth and in the Philippines, women wear polka dot dresses and men carry coins in their pockets to symbolize prosperity and happiness for the new year.

The purpose of sharing these variations of holiday celebrations is to show that no matter how you choose to celebrate a holiday this year whether it is Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, remember that it is OK to be different. Value time spent with family, not the gifts that are given, or the decorations that are hung. Create new memories this season and don’t be afraid to veer from the holiday norm. As the Dr. Seuss quote illustrates, the holiday spirit cannot be bought from a store, the holiday is what you make of it.

If you are looking for some inspiration from other countries on how to add some new culture to your holiday, check out the Why Christmas webpage to learn more about Christmas Around the World or 123 New Year to learn about New Year’s Traditions and Customs.

How do you plan to make new memories this holiday season?

References:
http://www.whychristmas.com/cultures/
http://www.123newyear.com/newyear-traditions/philippines.html
http://www.businessinsider.com/new-years-rituals-around-the-world-2013-12#in-greece-people-hang-an-onion-on-their-doors-3

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Insurance Enrollment and the MS Community

While the 2014 year slowly comes to an end and individuals start to make their end of year plans, there are still two important dates to keep in mind in regards to open enrollment for health insurance. For those who are uninsured, or who possibly want to make some changes to a pre-existing Medicare plan, open enrollment allows individuals to make changes without penalty.

Medicare open enrollment ends Sunday, December 7th. Up until this date, changes can be made allowing an individual to switch from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage Plan, or vice versa. A switch from one Medicare Advantage Plan to another Medicare Advantage Plan or to a plan that offers different drug coverage can be made as well. This is especially important to the MS community as medications can often change. If the doctor prescribes a medication that is not covered under a drug formulary, other drug coverage options can be explored that may be more suited to your prescription needs. To explore options, contact Medicare directly at (800) 633-4227 or visit www.medicare.gov.

For more complex issues with Medicare, the Medicare Rights Center offers a helpline to answer your questions about insurance choices as well as Medicare rights and protections. You can reach the Medicare Rights Center at 1-800-333-4114 or visit www.medicarerights.org.

The Open Enrollment Period for individuals eligible to enroll in the Marketplace for a Qualified Health Plan for coverage starting in 2015 is now through February 15, 2015. Individuals can enroll in a plan in the Marketplace by visiting www.healthcare.gov, or by calling (800) 318-2596. These plans are available to those who are uninsured, losing insurance, or who would like to make a change to their existing plan. If you purchased a plan in the previous Open Enrollment period and were not happy with that plan, now is the time to review other options and make a switch if available.

For more information regarding insurance, MSAA’s My Health Insurance Guide is aimed at assisting the MS community with understanding the many details surrounding today’s health insurance options.

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