A new Health
of America report from the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA) shows
that commercially insured Americans with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) are three
times more likely to have behavioral health conditions, including major
depression and substance use disorder. The report – The Health Impact of Multiple
Sclerosis – also shows that those diagnosed with MS are two to three
times more likely to experience chronic health conditions, such as hypertension
and high cholesterol.
Here in Rhode
Island another data point stands out – Rhode has the second highest MS
diagnosis rate (36 diagnosed per 10,000 people) in the U.S., and is well above
the national average (24 diagnosed per 10,000). Only Washington, D.C. has
a higher diagnosis rate than Rhode Island. The northeast overall had the
highest diagnosis rates.
is – what does this mean? Let’s start by talking about what MS is.
Sclerosis is a life-long disease of the central nervous system that disrupts
the body’s ability to send neurological signals within and between the brain
and other parts of the body. While MS symptoms widely vary per person, they
often include progressive physical and cognitive decline. The cause of MS is
not known and there is no cure yet, but there are Food and Drug
Administration-approved medications that have been show to slow the disease
course and progression.
data, which looked at commercially insured members of Blue Cross and Blue
Shield companies from 2014 to 2017, also found that 75 percent of those
diagnosed with MS were women and that the average age of someone living with MS
is 47 years old.
Why is Rhode Island’s diagnosis rate so high?
at the data, it’s important to acknowledge that the report is representative of
only the commercially insured population, and Rhode Island has a particularly
high percentage of insured individuals. In fact, in 2017 (the last year of data
the report included), Rhode Island was one of just six states with an uninsured
rate of 8 percent or less.
When we look
at the why, there are a few important
things to consider. There’s likely greater awareness of MS, which is certainly
a good thing as that awareness can accelerate treatment and research. It could
also indicate better access to primary care and improved diagnostic
capabilities at the provider level. Both the Multiple Sclerosis Center at Rhode
Island Hospital and the MS Center of Care New England are dedicated to
providing comprehensive care that addresses the many intricacies of the
Due to the
chronic conditions and behavioral health issues that typically accompany MS, a
strong partnership with your primary care provider (PCP)
is essential since your PCP can serve as the quarterback for care needs.
supports programs that improve access to care, such as the support provided
through patient-centered medical homes, which often have a low- or no-cost cost
share. Telehealth can also be an effective tool for people living with MS,
especially those who are in pain and have difficulty leaving their home to see
their PCP in-person. Our telehealth platform, Doctors Online, allows our members to connect
with top-rated, board-certified healthcare providers from home, work or while
traveling – 365 days a year, 24 hours a day.
Every day in
Rhode Island, and around the country, people with MS are coping with the
symptoms of the disease and its impact on their daily lives. With an emphasis
on coordinated care, we can help people delay their symptoms, manage chronic
conditions and ensure they receive the most appropriate care at the right time
and in the right setting.
Matt Collins, M.D., MBA, is the chief medical
officer and executive vice president of Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode