Lately I have had serious trouble with something frequently called the MS Hug (also known as Girdle Pain or sometimes Girdle Band Sensation). What is the MS Hug? There are a couple of theories on what causes this. One theory is that it is just muscle spasms like all the other muscles spasms experienced by people like me. And by “muscle spasms” I mean awful unbearable crippling pain (OK it’s not this bad every single time). The more popular theory is that the spasms are caused by lesions on the spinal cord – I’ve never had an MRI on my spinal cord so I can’t tell you if that could be a factor for me. It can be an exacerbation or a psuedoexacerbation. In my case I’m not sure. But I’m going to try to give you all the information I can about this abomination. Please remember, I work with computers and have no medical background.
Typical Insurance Business Model = Avoid Providing Service? I’ve glimpsed the battle between insurance and Gilenya.
Several weeks ago I got the call from Novartis that I had been rejected by my insurance for Gilenya. When I ask why, she reads to me “Cost exceeds limit per patient. No further review.” My insurance coverage has no limit on the cost of a prescribed medication – it is technically covered and my insurance company has just chosen not to.
Within seconds, I began an exacerbation. For the last few weeks I have been experiencing something that is commonly called “The MS Hug.” I can’t print the things I call it in my head. At it’s worst, it’s the kind of pain you don’t want to live through.
The message below is a reader’s story sent to me by a reader named Kathy (http://gilenya-girl.blogspot.com/ ) who is also using a blog to chronicle her adventures in treating MS with Gilenya. She’s had tremendous success with it right away. Stories like this give me so much hope!
I have had MS since 1987, although it was not diagnosed until 1992. This is often the case with MS, as we all know. I have been on Beta Seron since 1993. I tried Ampyra last year with no success. I had a major flare-up about four months ago, and steroids no longer worked. My doctor gave me the choice of Gilenya or Tysabri. I hate MRI’s and they are necessary when you are on Tysabri. I selected Gilenya!
Today I received my first phone call from Gilenya / Novartis, one month and three days after submitting forms to them. Nurses are specifically assigned as case managers to patients and stay with them at least through the process of getting started on the drug. It has taken awhile to finally have contact with Gilenya, but here we are.
The call mostly consisted of me answering questions about my health history and current doctors. How long have I been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, have I had recent vaccinations, etc. We went over the tests I would need to complete before the first dose, and she told me that they were still undergoing a “benefits investigation” to determine if I was eligible to receive the drug.
The nurse was extremely nice and sounded knowledgeable, at least pertinent to the contents of the conversation. I wish I’d had the forethought to prepare any questions I might come up with ahead of time – I had begun to doubt that I would have any direct contact with the company again.
Some good news in my quest to start Gilenya – which is really starting to feel like a quest for the holy grail. I’ve written previously about my hopes for Gilenya and of my frustrations with the slow process. On the day I ceased Rebif I also saw a gastroenterologist for my elevated liver enzymes. The tally so far is $800 for the consult, $600 for the results, and forthcoming bills for some blood tests and an abdomenal ultrasound. Results are that I am clear of all liver diseases – he seemed disappointed. With the liver investigation closed, I am set to begin the Gilenya approval tests required by my neurologist, by my insurance provider, and by Novartis.
Almost two weeks ago I posted that I was in the process of switching to Gilenya. Not so fast, I suppose. My neurologist’s office staff was eager for me to let Gilenya set up all of my doctor appointments for me to undergo the necessary tests. By their accounts they faxed in my information the morning I was in their office, and then a few days later when they hadn’t heard anything back. And then again when I called them after a very unproductive phone call with Gilenya. With such a new drug, I should have expected Gilenya process problems.
Several months ago I switched positions within the company to work in a 24/7 network surveillance group. We rotate weekends, leaving me with a “weekend” during the week for a month here and there. I had hoped that I could use these days to get through all of my doctor appointments this month. But the opportunity to accomplish that is rapidly vanishing.
As it turns out, similarly to my father’s results with Avonex, Rebif has caused my liver enzymes to shoot up to about 3X the upper limit of normal in the span of slightly less than 2 years. My options?
1) Tysabri : the risk of PML is too severe for me to brave this drug – reputed to be a risk of death or severe disability as high as 1 in 200 for some individuals and 1 in 2000 for others
2) Copaxone : statistically slightly less effective than interferons – works great for my father but I truly don’t want to do a daily injection except as a last resort
3) Gilenya : aka Fingolimod – when this was approved by the FDA I wrote a blog post to summarize all the information I could find – it is the only oral disease modifying drug for Multiple Sclerosis – DING! DING! DING!
I have chosen to switch to Gilenya.
There has been a huge breakthrough in MS treatment! An oral medication by Novartis, Gilenya (formerly Gingolimod and FTY720), has finally been approved by the FDA to be available by prescription as a daily 0.5 mg capsule as a first line treatment in October.