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December 15, 2011

ULM student pharmacists help Medicare Part D beneficiaries

Students and faculty from the ULM College of Pharmacy assisted seniors at the Ouachita Council on Aging during the Medicare Prescription Drug Plan Annual Enrollment Period from Oct. 15 through Dec. 7.

Medicare offers prescription drug coverage, Medicare Part D, to everyone with Medicare. Each drug plan varies in cost, drugs covered and pharmacy acceptance.

In order to get the best coverage at the best price possible, seniors should pick a plan that meets their unique needs.

Dr. Michelle Zagar, clinical associate professor and a certified geriatric pharmacist, has been assisting Medicare beneficiaries with plan selection and enrollment at the Ouachita Council on Aging since the Medicare Part D program began in 2006.

Each year, the number of beneficiaries requesting assistance has grown, as plans change their cost structure and drug formularies.

Since all pharmacy students now learn about the complex Medicare Part D program in their Health Care Systems class, Zagar enlisted the help of Dr. Laurel Andrews, coordinator of Introductory Pharmacy Practice Experiences, and third professional year students in a service learning project for the fall semester.

Medicare beneficiaries who requested assistance were asked to submit a list of all their medications. Under the supervision of Andrews, students entered the drug lists into the Medicare Drug Plan Finder on the Medicare website.

Zagar then met with each individual at the Council on Aging to discuss their plan options, identify the plans providing the best coverage at the best price to them, and help them enroll in the plan of their choice.

Of the Medicare beneficiaries who re-evaluated their prescription drug plan needs, 47 beneficiaries switched their plans for 2012 for a total savings of $32,294.

Individual savings ranged from $50 to $6,762.

When he heard the amount of savings, student pharmacist Anthony Alpha said, "Wow! I had no idea that our pharmacy class could help save elderly patients so much money. Personally, the experience has helped me better understand the confusing system called Medicare Part D and help Medicare patients pick the plan that will save them the most money.

"For elderly patients on fixed incomes, every dollar counts, especially with the rising prices of food. We wanted to help ensure that they do not have to choose between food and medicine. It makes me feel good to know that our class helped protect them in a time of need."

According to Zagar, the large amount of total savings this year highlights the importance of seniors re-evaluating their prescription drug plan needs each year, as companies drop some drugs from their formularies.

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