New Legislation Means Earlier Access to Medicare Benefits for Individuals With ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease)

    WASHINGTON, July 5 /PRNewswire/ -- A historic law that takes effect this
 week eliminates the 24-month waiting period for Medicare coverage for
 individuals suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), commonly
 referred to as Lou Gehrig's disease.  Previously, ALS patients that qualified
 for Social Security Disability (SSD) had to wait two years for Medicare
 coverage, despite the fact that life expectancy for some ALS patients is less
 than two years.  This landmark legislation, passed by the 106th Congress and
 signed into law by President Clinton last December, will impact thousands of
 ALS patients nationwide.  This benefit became law on July 1, 2001.
     "It is because of the tireless dedication of ALS patients, supporters and
 The ALS Association (ALSA), that Medicare benefits will now be available more
 quickly to a greater number of patients," stated Congresswoman Lois Capps
 (D-CA), an author of the legislation.  "This new law will help ease the
 financial burden of ALS and improve the lives of thousands of patients and
 families struggling with this devastating disease."
     Medicare is a federal program providing health insurance benefits for
 Americans 65 years and older and people with disabilities.  Until this new
 legislation was passed, eligible, disabled ALS patients had to wait a total of
 29 months for Medicare benefits from the time their SSD application was
 approved.  Now that the ALS legislation is enacted, ALS patients will only
 have a five-month waiting period that SSD requires, and then both programs
 will go into effect.  Currently, the Medicare program offers eligible
 beneficiaries two types of coverage:  hospitalization (Part A) covers
 in-patient hospitalizations including surgery, treatments and in-patients
 medications and hospice care, while physician services (Part B) covers
 selected outpatient care such as diagnostic tests, physician visits and
 medical equipment.
     "As an ALS patient, I understand first-hand how frustrating it is to have
 to wait more than two years for Medicare benefits," stated Jim Laughlin,
 patient from the Santa Barbara, California area.  "It's a relief for my family
 and I to know that Medicare will now cover the cost of visits to the doctor
 and hospital, allowing increased medical care and significantly reducing the
 financial burden we have carried for so long."
     Half of people diagnosed with ALS will die within three years of diagnosis
 due to the progressive nature of the disease.  Elimination of the 24-month
 Medicare waiting period will positively affect the lives of people with ALS,
 providing them with coverage for medical care.  Routine physician visits allow
 patients to more easily obtain information about their disease, its
 progression and investigational and proven ALS therapies, such as Rilutek, the
 only drug approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the treatment
 of ALS.
     "The ALS Association is extremely grateful to Congresswoman Lois Capps
 (D-CA) and Senator Robert Toricelli (D-NJ) for their determined efforts in
 passing this historic law," stated Mike Havlicek, president of The ALS
 Association (ALSA).  "Their stewardship of the legislation, along with the
 bi-partisan support of their colleagues, has helped to ratify the first-ever
 ALS specific legislation."
 
     About ALS
     Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), more commonly referred to as Lou
 Gehrig's disease, is a fatal, neurodegenerative disease that attacks nerve
 cells and pathways in the brain and spinal cord.  When these cells die, the
 ability of the brain to start and control all voluntary muscle control and
 movement dies with them.  Patients in the later stages of the disease are
 totally paralyzed, yet, in most cases, their minds remain sharp and alert.
     Every 24 hours, 15 new cases of ALS are diagnosed; at the same time every
 24 hours, 15 people will die from the disease.  Nearly 30,000 Americans in the
 United States have ALS at any given time.
     The average life expectancy of a person with ALS is two to five years from
 time of diagnosis.  Half of all people diagnosed with ALS live three or more
 years after diagnosis.  Twenty percent live five years or more; up to ten
 percent will survive more than ten years.
     The ALS Association is the only national not-for-profit voluntary health
 organization dedicated solely to the fight against ALS through research,
 patient support, information dissemination and public awareness.  The
 Association is one of the largest sources of private, specifically-targeted
 research into ALS.  Headquartered in Southern California, The Association and
 its widespread network of volunteer-led chapters and support groups, along
 with its certified ALS clinics, wage battle against the disease.  For more
 information about ALS and The ALS Association, visit www.alsa.org.
 
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SOURCE The ALS Association

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