Pharmacists can clarify Medicare Part D Confusion, expert says

Lipton, Stebbins, Pelosi
Susan Merrell

Left to right: Helene Levens Lipton, PhD; Marilyn Stebbins, PharmD; Nancy Pelosi

Marilyn Stebbins, PharmD, a clinical professor in the UCSF School of Pharmacy, is urging seniors to ask their pharmacists for help in clarifying new Medicare Part D drug benefit choices and in dealing with the government bureaucracy the benefit has spawned.

Stebbins' remarks came during a February 10, 2006 press conference at the Dorothy Day Senior Center in San Francisco. The meeting was hosted by United States House of Representatives Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Stebbins joined Pelosi and a panel of individuals and seniors' advocates who provided testimony to the havoc, frustration, and despair the new Medicare Part D rules have inflicted on their lives. "I feel like a firefighter in the prescription drug firestorm," said Stebbins, a Medicare expert who advises senior patients on drug benefits. "Some of the most serious problems with Medicare Part D are affecting our most vulnerable populations and they urgently need help to cope with the law."

In her testimony, Stebbins described angry moments when low income patients with serious medical conditions found they had lost their drug coverage, and when others were forced to walk away from the pharmacist's counter empty handed because they could not pay full price for their once-subsidized drugs.

"Had the State of California not passed emergency legislation to continue to cover medications for Medi-Cal/Medicare patients, many more patients would have gone without," she said.

Pelosi blasted the Republican-backed law as a "horror show with tragic consequences." Among the provisions she held up for particular scorn were the:

  • unlimited ability of private drug plans to change what drugs they cover "at will," and the
  • ban that prevents Medicare from negotiating lower drug prices.

Pelosi advocated for a Democratic plan to extend the Medicare Part D sign-up deadline 6 months beyond the May 15, 2006 cutoff as a short-term solution to a long-term fix of rewriting the prescription drug plan completely.

"We want a bill that would allow pharmacists to bill Medicare directly for prescriptions filled during this transition period and receive prompt payments. We intend to meet the need not meet the greed," Pelosi said.

With the political battle still undecided, Stebbins took heart from some of the speakers' personal stories in which compassionate pharmacists played the hero's role. "I urge you all to think of your pharmacist as a great resource," Stebbins recommended. "Your pharmacist can work with you and your plan, suggest alternative drugs if yours aren't covered, and see that you get what you need."

Helene Levens Lipton, PhD, a professor and social scientist in the UCSF School of Pharmacy, joined the press conference at Pelosi's invitation to serve as a resource person during discussions.


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School of Pharmacy, Department of Clinical Pharmacy, PharmD Degree Program

About the School: The UCSF School of Pharmacy aims to solve the most pressing health care problems and strives to ensure that each patient receives the safest, most effective treatments. Our discoveries seed the development of novel therapies, and our researchers consistently lead the nation in NIH funding. The School’s doctor of pharmacy (PharmD) degree program, with its unique emphasis on scientific thinking, prepares students to be critical thinkers and leaders in their field.