Pharmacy School Creates Medicare Assistance Program

The Harrison School of Pharmacy started a free training program for assisting Medicare beneficiaries eligible for subsidies.

The Harrison School of Pharmacy at Auburn University announced they will be starting a novel program that assists Medicare beneficiaries who are unable to afford their medications.

The new program was started by Salisa Westrick, BS Pharm, MS, PHD, a professor at the university. Dr Westrick said that more than 4000 elderly and disabled people in Lee County, Alabama are eligible for Medicare subsidy programs, but have not enrolled likely due to a lack of awareness, according to a press release.

Another 800 and 1400 individuals are eligible in Hoover and Phenix City, respectively. These individuals have difficulties affording their medications, like many Americans. A recent study found that problems associated with paying for medication among these individuals was the highest in 2004 at 5.4%, but dropped to 3.6% in 2006, after the Medicare Modernization Act was implemented and Medicare Part D was in full effect.

Despite these and other studies that suggest more seniors can afford their medications, some are still faced with these difficulties.

“We have come to realize there are many Medicare patients who qualify for subsidy programs, but aren't enrolled,” Dr Westrick said. “More than likely, they aren't enrolled because they don't know these programs exist.”

To raise awareness, the university has been reaching out to local pharmacies, encouraging them to join the Certified Aging Resource Educated Specialists (CARES) Pharmacy Network, the first of its kind.

The CREATES Pharmacy Network was based on a Medicare outreach program between the university and the state’s Department of Senior Services. In the past 4 years, pharmacy students attending the Harrison School of Pharmacy have been trained to assist Medicare beneficiaries choosing which Medicare plan would fit their needs.

This collaboration led Dr Westrick to create the new program, which provides 3 hours of continuing education training for pharmacists and technicians, according to the press release.

“Because many people on Medicare don't know these programs exist for them, they may be experiencing high premiums and high out-of-pocket costs for their medications,” Dr Westrick said. “They may not buy their medications because of the cost. When they have to pay a co-pay of $50 for each brand name medication or when they fall into the coverage gap, it becomes unaffordable for many patients.”

The training offered is free and online-based, making it convenient for pharmacists to receive the additional education. A pharmacy that has 1 or more pharmacists with the training is eligible to participate in the network, and assist patients who may be able to qualify for subsidies.

While these pharmacists will not be screening patients themselves, they will be referring them to Aging and Disability Resource Centers, which will then screen and assist qualifying individuals with the application process, according to the press release.

“Aging and Disability Resource Centers are unbiased and their goal is to help patients find subsidy programs for which they qualify while continuing to receive services at their pharmacy,” Dr Westrick said.

Currently, there are 9 pharmacies participating in the CARES Pharmacy Network in Alabama. If a program was implemented in each state, it is likely that many more Medicare beneficiaries could afford their medications.

“Awareness is the key,” Dr Westrick concluded. “I believe pharmacists are an integral part of patient care. Through this program, pharmacists help increase patient awareness of subsidy programs and refer them to the agency that can help them enroll in these programs.”