Pharm School Receives Grant to Help with Part D

Pharmacy Times, Volume 0, 0

For seniors who benefit from theMedicare Part D plan, reenrollingthis past fall was more of a chorethan ever, especially since some had torecalculate their costs to avoid thedreaded "doughnut hole" of 2006. Drugplans changed, medicines were added toand dropped from formularies, premiumswent up and down, and seniorswere once again caught in the middle.

To help meet some of the anticipatedchallenges, the University of California,San Francisco (UCSF) Pharmacy Schoolhas developed a program to help seniorswith their drug plan decisions. Entitled"Partners in D," the program is expectedto run for 3 1/2 years and will be gearedtoward training tomorrow's pharmacistsin the most effective ways to handle PartD questions as they arise. Along with 6other schools of pharmacy in Californiathat will partner in the program, theschool will incorporate training onMedicare Part D into pharmacy studentcurricula. The students will then instructtheir fellow professional healthcare students in the fields of medicineand nursing.

The program will also enable pharmacystudents to help seniors make informeddecisions when choosing their MedicarePart D plans, with a special focus onunderserved communities—low-incomeand non-English-speaking seniors in particular.The university will reap the benefitsof its multicultural student body byusing their various ethnic backgroundsand language skills to reach these seniorswith Medicare information relevant to thestate's diverse population.

"Partners in D" was the result of a pilotoutreach developed by students at thepharmacy school and directed by MarilynStebbins, PharmD; Helene Levens Lipton,PhD; and Tim Cutler, PharmD;all of the Department of ClinicalPharmacy at the school. Together,they took part in outreachevents in Sacramentoand San Francisco designed toassist low-income and non-English-speaking Medicare recipientswith making their PartD decisions. Students at theschool wanted to extend theprogram statewide.

Dr. Cutler explained, "Thestudents recognized thatthere's a huge problem withMedicare Part D, especiallywhen dealing with the mostunderserved seniors." He statedthat, in the initial pilot outreachprogram, nearly 2500seniors benefited from the students' and faculty expertise onPart D, especially those withcultural and language barriers.The pharmacy school has an ethnicallydiverse student body, and they were ableto reach out to many of these seniors intheir own languages.

Dr. Stebbins noted, "We discoveredthat many non-English-speaking populations[are wary of] the system and othersoutside their culture. They respond betterto students from their own culturesthan they would with translators. Theywere thankful to have someone explainthe Part D benefit to them on their ownlevel."

Dr. Cutler also noticed the positiveresponse to their outreach. "When [theseniors] hear ‘Part D,'they panic and getangry. They think we're trying to sellthem a plan. But when they realize thatwe're there to help them, it's amazing towatch their faces change and see howgrateful they were that we could helpthem understand." The researchers conductedpre-and post-outreach surveys,and the response so far has been overwhelminglypositive.

Dr. Lipton said that the school providesits students with cultural competencyand health literacy training so they canbetter help Medicare beneficiaries understandtheir options. She explainedthat "the students were really the drivingforce behind this program. We felt atremendous need to get out of the classroomand the pharmacy and into thecommunity and help those who neededit most—those in the lower-income andmultilingual populations."

The Amgen Foundation also recognizedthis need. Based in Thousand Oaks,Calif, the nonprofit foundation distributesgrants to regional and national nonprofitorganizations that support its mission ofimproving individual's lives through scienceand innovation. Drs. Lipton andStebbins investigated the grant andapplied for it during the summer of 2006,and the foundation approved theirrequest in October. The pharmacy schoolwas awarded $3.7 million to help fundthe "Partners in D" program. The grantallows for the program to expand inscope and extend statewide. One of thekey elements of the grant is the researchneeded to determine the overall successof the program and make evidence-based changes in it as it unfolds.

Jean Lim, president of the AmgenFoundation said, "'Partners in D'representsthe essence of what our foundationstands for: advancing education,improving quality of care and accessfor patients, and creating sound communities.We support this programbecause it clearly takes full advantageof a diverse student body and encouragesa spirit of collaboration."

One of the primary benefits the grantwill bring to the program is greaterInternet access; students rely on laptopcomputers during outreaches toaccess accurate information quickly,and the added funding will help themassist seniors in sorting out theirMedicare options while in the field.

Dr. Cutler stressed the importanceof reaching Medicare seniors on theirlevels and understanding their problemswith the program. "People whocome to us have complicated issues,or they don't understand the program?we've identified individualsthat didn't even know they were inMedicare or Medicaid, or that theircoverage could change from one yearto the next. We try to help them understandthe challenges and take a proactivestance."