Pharmacy students win national award for Medicare Part D outreach

Doctor of pharmacy students at the UCSF School of Pharmacy were recognized March 17, 2006 with a national Medicare Student Outreach Competition award for their success in educating the public about the new federal Medicare Prescription Drug Coverage program, known as Medicare Part D.

UCSF student pharmacist organizations received a US$500 prize from the National Council of State Pharmacy Association Executives (NCSPAE) for continued Medicare Part D programming.

UCSF student pharmacists provide Part D counseling

Part D outreach at UCSF is spearheaded by doctor of student pharmacists Tony Chung, Troy Drysdale, and Dave Smith. The trio organized Medicare Part D training for their UCSF student pharmacist peers, who in turn helped those eligible make wise drug benefit choices. Eligibles include people 65 years of age and older and some younger people with disabilities. The Medicare Part D sign-up deadline for this first year of the program is May 15, 2006.

As of March 17, 2006, 95 UCSF student pharmacists had spent 260 hours in training, and subsequently about 130 hours counseling approximately 250 people at 5 locations in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The number of people ultimately helped will be more than 500, Smith says, because students use their Medicare Part D training to counsel people outside the organized program settings.

"So many people were happy to have our help," Drysdale says. "A lot of people were concerned they wouldn't be able to get their blood pressure medications, for instance, and were really relieved that things weren't as bleak as they thought."

Student pharmacists find language skills helpful

The program, which adds a prescription drug benefit to the Medicare program, is complicated and confusing for many. This is especially true for people who do not speak English well or who do not have internet access to the Medicare web site to enroll in Part D online.

"We knew the Medicare Part D sign-up was going to be a big issue for the community, and we saw it as a way to have an impact while we were still students," Smith says.

Working mostly in underserved communities, the students benefited from the fact that many of them speak languages other than English. "We have students who speak Cantonese, Spanish, Russian," Chung says. "The group has a wide variety of language abilities."

Some of the people they counseled were well versed in many aspects of Medicare Part D, but others, especially those in lower-income communities, were often at a loss, Chung says. "Some people would get Medicare information and sign up forms in the mail, wouldn't understand them, and just throw them away."

Patients trust student pharmacists

Most of the students' efforts focused on counseling patients on benefit options. In many cases students helped people choose a particular plan and sign up, something that practicing pharmacists cannot do because of potential conflicts of interest.

"A large part of why we were well received is that, as students, we weren't stakeholders in any part of the process," Drysdale says. "People knew we were neutral and were genuine in our desire to help."

Part D counseling doesn’t end in 2006

The three see a continued need for Medicare Part D counseling into the future. They point out that between now and the May 15 sign-up deadline in 2006, people will be clamoring for answers. And every year, new people will become eligible and have to navigate the complex sign-up rules and procedures.

"We've really only scraped the surface," Drysdale says.

"These students are spectacular," says Marilyn Stebbins, PharmD, UCSF School of Pharmacy faculty member who, with faculty colleagues Timothy Cutler, PharmD, and Helene Levens Lipton, PhD, trained these students. "They are accomplished patient advocates even before they graduate with their PharmD degrees."



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.