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Students Helping Seniors with Medicare Part D Plans

Bradley Bird, Pharm.D. Candidate, The Ohio State University

With the initiation of Medicare Part D, it has been overwhelming for seniors to try to choose one prescription plan out of the more than 100 that the State of Ohio offers. I recently spent some time volunteering with fellow third-year pharmacy students at the Ohio Department of Insurance working for the Ohio Senior Health Insurance Information Program (OSHIIP). OSHIIP offers free health care insurance information and services for people with Medicare.

The OSHIIP program was designed so that patients eligible for Medicare could call in or mail a list of their medications for assistance in choosing a Medicare prescription plan. Through a government website, $$Link
0$$, we entered the patient's information, medications (strengths and 30-day quantities), and preferred pharmacy into the computer, and attempted to find the three best Medicare Part D plans available to him/her. This helped patients avoid considering plans that offered no benefit to them. Although we as volunteers could not choose one plan, we did help patients narrow their search significantly. For those who had mailed or called in their list of medications, a detailed chart containing the estimated yearly and monthly medication costs for each of the three best plans accepted at their preferred pharmacy were sent back through the mail to the patients' homes.

We also called seniors who had already signed up for a Medicare Part D plan, through the help of OSHIIP, and conducted surveys to evaluate patient satisfaction with both the new program as well as OSHIIP's helpfulness with the process. Major problems with Medicare Part D programs have been well publicized; some patients surveyed told unfortunate stories, while others sang praises of the the new system. A handful of seniors joyously told stories of how they saved hundreds of dollars over the past few months due to their Part D coverage. However, one of my fellow pharmacy students had been engaged in a 20-minute gut-wrenching conversation with a man who could not afford to pay for his medications and his girlfriend's chemotherapy. The man said that his Medicare plan was not covering several of his medications, including certain medications for his diabetes. It was very hard for the volunteer to listen to a grown man breaking down on the phone while trying to comfort him the best she could. In that situation, there is little that can be said to make the person feel better.

There are many pharmacists and pharmacy students in Ohio who do not have the knowledge to help their loved ones choose the best plan. So how can all of the eligible patients be expected to choose a plan without being completely overwhelmed?

I encourage anyone who has had trouble finding a Medicare prescription plan to seek help. The OSHIIP program is an excellent tool. Take advantage of it. Encourage your customers to call the OSHIIP hotline at 800.686.1578 or visit their website at $$Link
0$$. Free brochures and publications for enrollment assistance are available, in addition to information on OSHIIP outreach.

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