New disability benefits in Canada may help MS, other patients

Benefit details, like amount, to be determined; at least 1 year away

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by Steve Bryson, PhD |

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The government of Canada soon will provide new income benefits designed to help Canadians living with a disability — including people with multiple sclerosis (MS).

Applauded by MS Canada, a nonprofit that actively advocated for these benefits, the announcement follows the passing of the Canada Disability Benefit Act, Bill C-22, through the House of Commons and the Senate of Canada.

Now that it has received Royal Assent and passed into law, the government will begin a regulatory phase, in which benefit details, such as the amount and how to make payments, will be determined. Canadians living with a disability can expect to wait at least one year before accessing the benefits.

“We are thrilled with Bill C-22’s passage and the support from members of Parliament and senators about the need to provide income support for Canadians with disabilities, including those with episodic disabilities, like MS,” Benjamin Davis, senior vice-president of mission at MS Canada, said in a press release from the organization.

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MS Canada had joined in the fight to obtain these benefits — which the group says will help with expenses related to medications, treatments, equipment, and other services that may financially burden patients and their families.

In its support of the legislation, the organization had circulated an online petition last year, garnering close to 10,000 signatures in 24 hours.

MS Canada also encouraged Canadians to write directly to their respective member of Parliament (MP) and emphasize the significance of such benefits for individuals with disabilities and their families. Throughout the campaign, more than 6,000 emails were sent to the 338 MPs across the country.

During a Parliamentary committee study on the bill, a representative from the nonprofit successfully advocated for an amendment to ensure that the definition of disability — which determines who will be eligible for benefits — included episodic disabilities, such as multiple sclerosis. MS  Canada members also engaged the Senate committee studying the bill and met with senators to promote its quick passage.

The passage of this bill shows the strength of advocacy work and will be life-changing for many members of our community.

As part of last year’s MS Awareness Month, representatives from MS Canada attended more than 60 meetings with MPs and senators to discuss income security.

“The passage of this bill shows the strength of advocacy work and will be life-changing for many members of our community,” Davis said.

Canada has one of the highest rates globally of MS, a chronic autoimmune disease affecting the brain and spinal cord. It is considered an episodic disability because most patients experience cycles of symptom worsening and easing, or so-called relapses and remissions. These patients have a form of the disease called relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS).

MS also can be progressive, whereby disability continues to worsen over time. When RRMS becomes progressive, it’s called secondary progressive MS. Continued worsening from disease onset, without relapses, is referred to as primary progressive MS.