You Are Your Own Best Advocate

Recently I went to my primary care doctor for an annual flu vaccine and physical exam to make sure everything was in check. I paid my copay when I arrived at my appointment per usual protocol, but after reviewing the Explanation of Benefits (EOB) from my insurance company that came in recently, I realized the appointment was considered preventative and I should not have had to pay my copay amount. After noticing this I called my doctor’s office and they told me that in fact there was now a credit on my account of the copay amount that I had paid. They asked me if I wanted it to stay on my account as a credit or if I wanted to be refunded the amount. This made me scratch my head in perplexity, because I realized if I hadn’t reviewed my EOB from the insurance company and contacted my doctor’s office myself, I would’ve essentially been left in the dark about this copay credit until maybe I’d gone to my primary care doctor next year and was surprised with the copay credit on my account.

I feel like this happens often to individuals who are just trying to follow up with and maintain their medical care. I think this is why it’s so vital to be your own advocate when it comes to reviewing insurance information and benefits because there are not many on the other side that will do this for you, be it insurance companies or medical offices. Now don’t get me wrong, there may be some representatives who are diligent and careful in their work and do their best to ensure accuracy, however, this may not always be the case so it’s good to check and re-check things on your own as well. Human error can occur and mistakes can happen, but if you’re not aware of your own benefits and coverage this can slip under the radar and you could be paying for things out of pocket that you didn’t have to.

Insurance benefits and coverage can be a tricky thing to try to understand, so it’s important to take one thing at a time and to make contacts when you have questions. Calling the insurance company can sometimes be challenging so set aside time you know you can dedicate to this, or maybe your doctor’s office can help you navigate and understand your benefits. Sometimes you can use online customer support services to contact your insurance or connect to patient portals through your doctor’s office too. A relative, friend, neighbor or other resources in your community may also be able to help you decipher your insurance coverage. Again, you are your own best advocate when it comes to your care so being thorough and asking questions and reviewing your benefits is an essential part of the process.

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How Do You Create Space?

Though it doesn’t feel like it in most of the country, Fall is officially upon us. There’s the activities and the get togethers. The smells and the lead up to… the holiday season! Arguably fall is my favorite time of year and easily also one of the most stressful. In gearing up for the pending holidays, trying to enjoy outings with loved ones and friends and preparing for the end of the year in terms of work and personal life (I’m someone who likes to file my taxes in January if I can help it to get them out of the way) I inevitably run into a wall of burnout. It’s not permanent and to be honest is totally avoidable if I just created some margin. I know, it’s easier said than done when the kids, the spouse, the job, the (insert religious organization you belong to), the neighborhood watch, the scout troop or sports team, the friends, the family…the lists go on… all need something and they need it soon. If you are anything like me you’re a doer. But doers…they need margin most of all. We have to build in safe guards and set boundaries to make sure that while we’re caring for and participating with others, we’re also monitoring and taking care of ourselves. That we don’t run into the situation that we run totally out of steam, burning the candle at all ends and find ourselves in the dark.

Like I said, it’s easier said than done but just think how much better you’d be if you weren’t laying under the desk completely done at the end of the week. So, what have I done to help create space and boundaries for myself? I have people in my life who understand my doer mentality and essentially pull the plug from time to time. They’re there and not only listen to the litany of items on my ever growing To-Do list but also challenge me and say ‘Can someone else pick up the donations from the restaurant’ ‘Who can you call to finish making the activities for the carnival’ ‘Do you need to volunteer to run another event’ and most importantly, ‘What have you done this week that’s just for you’. They ask not because they are nosy or because they are looking to judge or condemn me. No, they ask because I’ve let them in and given them permission to tap me on the shoulder when it looks like I’m headed for the red zone. And vice versa, I’m part of their team. Their team that pulls them from the edge when they’re baking for the 5th bake sale this month or about to volunteer to run the fundraiser that drove them insane last year. You should surround yourself with people who you trust to step into your life and help you keep up with the boundaries you need…not the Jones’ down the block. So how do you do it? How do you build in the buffer? Because creating space and implementing margins in our time and energy may not feel natural at first if you are a doer, but it’ll help keep you from smacking into the wall of exhaustion…and who doesn’t want that?!

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Butternut Squash Fries

Welcome fall!  Here is a simple and delicious recipe for Butternut Squash Fries.  I am a sucker for anything fries.  This recipe is great with several dipping sauces too!  Be creative and have fun.

This recipe is also great for last-minute dinner emergencies.  If you need a side dish for a potluck or party, this would be a perfect go-to.

Ingredients:

  • 1 small (1-2 lb) butternut squash, peeled, de-seeded, and sliced into “fries”
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp. dried basil
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/8 tsp. cayenne powder

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 450F.
  2. Place the fries into a bowl with the olive oil. Toss until all the fries are coated. Season with remaining ingredients and mix until combined.
  3. Pour onto baking tray and evenly spread out so no pieces overlap. Place into oven and bake for 20 minutes. Flip, and continue baking for another 10-20 minutes or until desired crispiness is reached.

Enjoy!

 

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Medicare Open Enrollment is Coming!

On October 15th Medicare’s open enrollment period begins and lasts until December 7th. It’s during this time period that you can review your current Medicare plan and make changes if needed. You do not need to sign up for Medicare each year, but this is an important time when you should review your coverage to make adjustments if necessary, to ensure your health insurance needs are being met. And with the government currently discussing change that could potentially impact different parts of the healthcare system, it’s also a good time to stay up-to-date on this news as it unfolds.

Medicare beneficiaries who have a Medicare Advantage plan or Part D plan should receive paperwork called “Evidence of Coverage” or “Annual Notice of Change” letters from your health plan showing coverage outlines and any changes that will occur. It’s very important to review these materials to make sure of any changes in the plan’s costs, providers, benefits, drug formularies, etc. so that if something is changing with your plan, you are aware of it and can make changes to your coverage, if needed. These plans can change their benefits so it’s crucial to review your policy and any upcoming changes.

So, what can be done during the open enrollment period? According to Medicare, you can do the following:

Something else to keep in mind is that if you are not satisfied with your Medicare Advantage Plan, you can disenroll from that plan and join Original Medicare during the Medicare Advantage Disenrollment Period. This disenrollment period is open from January 1st to February 14th.

The Medicare website offers a Medicare Plan Finder where you can search for and compare health plans, benefits, coverage and estimated costs. You can also contact Medicare directly at 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227) for information and questions.

For additional help, you can receive individualized assistance and guidance in choosing coverage through your State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP). This resource provides one-on-one insurance counseling and support, visit https://www.shiptacenter.org/ to find your local office.

MSAA’s My Health Insurance Guide is a helpful source for the MS community to find more information about insurance options and resources, in addition to the Medicare Planning and Multiple Sclerosis brochure that helps to outline important parts and questions about Medicare coverage.

This is an important time to review your plan’s policy and make changes if needed to ensure that you have the appropriate coverage for your healthcare needs.

Resources:

http://www.medicareinteractive.org/get-answers/overview-of-medicare-health-coverage-options/changing-medicare-health-coverage/6-things-to-know-about-fall-open-enrollment

https://www.medicare.gov/sign-up-change-plans/when-can-i-join-a-health-or-drug-plan/when-can-i-join-a-health-or-drug-plan.html#collapse-3190

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Make Your Web Browser More Reader-Friendly

Visual disorders affect more than half of all individuals with MS, which can make even simple tasks more difficult.  Everyday things take more effort and more time when your vision is impaired in some way, including reading or doing anything online.  In this day and age, almost everything can, or needs to be done online, making surfing the internet unavoidable.  While many websites make an effort to be visually interesting and engaging, as well as readable, it can still be a challenge to read the information on your computer screen.

Every web browser is different, but there are some tricks that you can use to make your online experience a little easier when looking for information on the internet:

  • Font Size – If the type on a web page is too small, easily zoom in to make the font larger by pressing the “Control” key (on a Windows computer) or the “Command” key (on a Mac computer) and the “+” key. To zoom back out, press the “Control” or “Command” key and the “-“ key.
  • Clickable Content – An easy way to navigate around a page to find a link you are looking for is to hit the “Tab” key on your keyboard while on a web page. This will start where you are on the page and highlight the first link within view. To move further down the page, keep hitting the “Tab” key until the link you wish to click is highlighted. If you accidentally go past the link you wanted to click, press and hold the “Shift” key then press the “Tab” key to go backwards up the page. Press the “Return” or “Enter” key to click a highlighted link.
  • Cluttered Page – Most web browsers also offer the option of a “Reader Mode” which will remove ads, leaving only larger text and associated images, making the page easily readable. Web browsers that offer this mode include: Chrome, Microsoft Edge, Mozilla Firefox, and Safari. These extensions or settings may not work on every web page, but they can make the overall online experience a little easier.

For more details on how to adapt your browser to meet your accessibility needs, visit the browser-specific links below:

What tips, tricks, and tools do you use to improve the appearance of what you are reading online?

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Stories to Inspire

By Kaitlyn Gallagher

On a lovely weekend in mid-September, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series took over Philadelphia’s Benjamin Franklin Parkway with thousands of dedicated runners. Whether participating in the 5K, 10K, or half marathon, runners represented countless nonprofit organizations with colorful shirts, logos, and team “swag” to raise awareness for their particular cause. I was lucky enough to represent #TeamMSAA as a runner in the Rock ‘n’ Roll 5K along with a few others, including another MSAA employee, Emily!

I felt a bit out of my element running in a large scale race that Saturday morning – I’m certainly no athlete and even spent a few weeks training leading up to the race to make sure I was prepared! However, there was one runner on #TeamMSAA that was no stranger to racing for a cause. John Derry Jr., our top fundraiser for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Series in Philadelphia, has run many times in support of different organizations. This year, John discovered that he could run in support of the MS community, and knew that he had to sign up for a very personal reason.

“MS has had a great impact on my life due to my grandmother having MS. My grandmother has shaped the man I am today,” said John. “I have been taking care of her my entire life. I am currently her primary caretaker. Over the years of caretaking I have grown to learn how to take care of others and pay attention to other’s needs.”

Meeting John was an incredible experience – he is a truly selfless person who not only takes on the responsibilities of caring for his grandmother, but spends his free time training and running to help others living with MS. He has taken his passion for running and turned it into a mission to serve others, and for that MSAA is extremely thankful! John raised over 700 dollars that will go toward providing members of the MS community with free programs and services like cooling vests, mobility equipment, MRI funding, and more.

John plans to continue running in other races, and is currently applying to get his Master’s degree to become a Physician’s Assistant, another decision influenced by his years as a caretaker. We wish John the best of luck in all of his future endeavors, and thank him on behalf of the MS community for his amazing work as a caretaker and advocate!

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MSAA Publishes New Booklet About MS Progression

Aside

We here at MSAA are pleased to announce another new publication, Understanding Progression in MS. This valuable resource is designed to help people with MS and their loved ones better understand what is happening when progression in MS occurs and provides a number of treatment options – from the newest approved disease-modifying therapy to symptom management and wellness strategies.

Understanding Progression in MS includes:

  • An overview of the background information and details of the types of MS
  • An overview of how progression in MS is thought to develop and how it is evaluated
  • Current treatment options, noting specifically how treating inflammation differs from treating progression
  • Detailed information on several prominent symptoms and symptom management
  • Strategies for healthy living with progressive MS

Check out this latest publication and view or order your copy today!

 

Funding for Understanding Progression in MS was made possible by Sanofi Genzyme.

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Changing Seasons and Changing Routines

Fall is upon us and as the leaves change color and pile up on lawns across the neighborhood, parents and kids are begrudgingly adjusting to a new school year routine. Humans and animals are naturally creatures of habit – just ask a toddler or a pet during Daylight Saving Time – and changing up a routine can be stressful for anyone.

When you are living with a chronic disease like MS, a change in your daily routine can do more than just throw you off-balance for a day or two. Whether you are going through an employment change or you need to switch to a new medication with a different dosing schedule, there are some small things you can do to help yourself adjust to a new routine:

  • Start Small – Whenever there are big changes, it can feel overwhelming to focus on everything at once. Instead, try focusing on one small change or task at a time.  You can feel more accomplished as you cross each individual task off your to-do list.
  • Use Your Current Routine – Sometimes, the easiest way to establish a new routine, is to adapt the one you already have in place! For example, using your favorite TV show or weekly lunch with a friend as a reminder to take medication can make it easier to keep yourself on track.
  • There’s an App for That – Just take a scroll through the app store for your phone or tablet and you can find many different options to help you organize your day or manage your medications, including MSAA’s My MS Manager™ app. These apps can help you ease into your new routine by setting reminders and audio alerts on your phone or tablet.
  • Don’t Be Afraid to Try Something New – Change of any kind can make us feel uncomfortable or afraid because we don’t know what to expect, but that’s ok. Depending on how dramatic the change is, it can take up to 3 months for a new routine to feel like a habit. So don’t get discouraged if you aren’t feeling comfortable yet with your new routine. You may just need a little more time!

Change is almost always hard, even if that change may be for the better.  With a few of these strategies, hopefully, you can more easily navigate whatever life throws at you today.

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Apple Cider Donut Cake

I hope everyone is starting to enjoy the beginning of fall weather!  It is starting to get cool, but not cold. The sunsets are just gorgeous and the leaves are beginning to change pretty colors. What more can you ask for…OK donuts/cake…my thoughts exactly.

One thing I can’t get enough of during the fall is apples.   The fresh juicy apples are just waiting to be baked in some delicious way.

Try this recipe and see what you think.  I love to bake this time of year.

It warms my soul and my tummy.

Ingredients:

  • 1 large Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, and chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups apple cider
  • 1/2 cup milk, at room temperature
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup of unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Cinnamon Sugar Coating

  • 8 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • Dash of salt

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Grease bundt pan with baking spray.

In medium saucepan, bring chopped apple and cider to boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until most of the cider has been absorbed and apples are easily smashed with a fork, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove pan from heat, cool 5 minutes, and then pulse in food processor until pureed.  Stir in milk into apple puree; set aside.

In medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon; set aside.

In large bowl, beat unsalted butter, sugar, and brown sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add oil and beat until incorporated, about 1 minute.

Decrease mixer speed to low and add flour mixture in three batches, alternating with apple mixture, scraping down sides and bottom of bowl with rubber spatula as needed. Increase speed to medium and beat mixture just until combined.   Add vanilla and beat once more, just to combine.

Scrape batter into prepared pan. Bake until cake tester inserted in cake comes out clean, rotating cake halfway through baking, 35 to 45 minutes. Take out of oven and let cool upside down on top of a serving dish for about 10 minutes before removing from bundt pan.

For the Cinnamon Sugar Coating: Combine sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt in small bowl. Sprinkle warm cake with cinnamon sugar, using fingers to rub it onto sides.

Cool cake completely, about 1 hour.

Happy Baking!

 

Update: Originally this post stated to let the cake cool upside down for 30 minutes, instead of cooling upside down for 10 minutes.

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That Tuesday Morning…

“I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection.” –Thomas Paine

There are more lines to this quote, but this first part has always stuck out to me. It struck me the first time I heard it studying Thomas Paine in school and it’s come back to me many times since. It’s simple, directive, yet weighty in connotation – I love it for that.

Every September 11th two thoughts run through my head as I start my day. I think about my childhood friend and her stepdad who lost their mother and wife in the Pentagon. Simultaneously, in that moment of grief for them and others I’m incredibly thankful that my own dad, who was at work that morning like always in the Pentagon, made it home. Today is one of those days that we all share and don’t share at the same exact time. As a country, we watched together as the day turned from a sunny Tuesday morning to a confusing Tuesday afternoon to a devastating Tuesday night. But every person will tell you an individual story of where they were and what their experience was. It’s one of those days that’s burned into our collective memories for better or worse, and if we close our eyes we can recall more details from that one day than almost any other.

For me Tuesday September 11th, 2001 was a slow motion day of disbelief in a school only about a half hour outside of DC in a Virginia town heavily populated by military families, many of whom work in the 5 sided polygon, as teachers tried and failed desperately to keep students sheltered and calm. It’s almost strange not to think back to where I was today 16 years ago when the speakers in my Algebra class cracked to life. The shaky voice of the principal came over the intercom and the school went totally silent, as if all the air had been sucked out of the building. I can still feel what it was like wandering down halls wanting to reach out to home but terrified of even picking up a phone. Seeing tears around every corner as students sat on the floor in groups or hovered in corners holding themselves to keep from breaking and leaned against lockers unable to think of what to do next.

I can close my eyes and feel myself being hugged by people who were strangers an hour before, hugged just because they knew where my dad worked. What it was like finally running home from the bus much later than normal as the stars came out and not realizing how long I’d been holding my breath till I saw my dad sitting distraught and looking lost on the couch through our open front door. Sitting with my friend in her room on the edge of her bed hugging and silently crying just a few miles from where rescue crews were working. Sitting with her on the floor of their living room as we all waited for the list of names while our parents sat silent listening to news correspondents try to formulate coherent sentiments.

I know what day it is before my alarm goes off and I even hear the news click on. Before I start my NY Times app or open my social media feed. I know what day it is because there’s a pull to it, a weight to the hours that other days don’t have. I know what day it is regardless of what day of the week it falls on because of what it means to me, to my neighbors and friends. What it means to the families of men, women and children who lost their lives and everyone who carries their memories. What it means to the service personnel who have given their lives to protect our country and those who reenlist for another tour to continue that work.

For myself, and I know so many others, today is about reflection. It’s about taking time to honor and love and gather strength, and not necessarily about never forgetting the events that happened, the events that it set in motion, or the loved ones we lost, but about remembering that the people we are given and the time that we have, however long it shall be, should mean something. About seeking out the reasons to smile in the face of troubles and allowing ourselves to grow braver and more resilient after we reflect on where we’ve been and all that’s happened. I’m reminded of that and challenged to be sure to take all that I’ve been given and make it mean something, to make it count… Let it remind you today to make yours count too.

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