Pharmacy Students Help USC Retirees Navigate Prescription Drug Coverage Options

Student consults with retiree

PharmD student Brian Phan assists June Griffin in identifying the best Medicare Part D plan for her specific needs.

Students from the School of Pharmacy provided consultations to ensure retired Trojans received optimal coverage through Medicare Part D.

Medicare Part D aims to lower prescription drug costs for seniors and help protect them against higher costs in the future – but many members of this population find it difficult to navigate the medicare.gov website to receive their optimal coverage.

Over 50 USC students held a three-day workshop on USC’s Health Sciences Campus for USC retirees and their spouses to help them enroll in the Medicare Part D plan that was right for them.

“Many retirees don’t know they should change plans every year because insurance companies change formularies, premiums and deductibles each year,” explains Tiffany Huang, director of geriatrics for the Skull & Mortar society, who acted as student coordinator for the workshop. “Also, retirees have changes in their health status, disease states and medication needs, which means they should update their Medicare Part D plans accordingly.”

Participating students prepared for the workshop with a prep session conducted by the Center for Health Care Rights, a non-profit focusing on all aspects of health care, focusing on Medicare Part D.

“This workshop helped raise awareness of Medicare Part D among students, which is something that is very important for future pharmacists to have knowledge about,” says Huang.

The students also trained with Brad Williams, professor of clinical pharmacy and clinical gerontology, who serves as the advisor for the project. “There are several people who have attended every year since we began the program during the first year Part D was available,” he said. Williams said that many of the retirees really appreciate the opportunity to ask questions and to interact with the students. To prepare them for the sessions, Williams presented various case studies and had the students utilize the confusing Medicare website to find optimal plans.

“One of the common issues seniors face when enrolling for Medicare Part D is not understanding when to opt for brand vs. generic prescriptions,” says Huang. “In addition, the Medicare site is difficult to fully understand and navigate.”

Through the workshop, Huang and the other students were able to help 62 retirees – and additional participants via phone – select the Medicare Part D plan that was right for them. The total savings for the retirees participating was nearly $50,000, or an average of $797 per person.

“At the end of their session, most of the participating retirees signed up for their coverage,” says Huang. “Patients are really glad to have someone with whom to navigate the website and help them review their options, making it easy for them to ultimately make their decision.”

Huang hopes the participating seniors left with the message that it is important to review their Medicare Part D plan every year.

“While there, we also encouraged folks to follow their medication regimen accurately, picking up and taking their medication as directed to get the best outcomes,” she says.

Huang, who is currently a second year PharmD student, hopes to eventually go into geriatric pharmacy. She currently works at CVS, which has a large geriatric population.

“My ultimate goal is to receive board certification, and enter into pharmacy consultation in the field of medication reconciliation and medication outcomes, perhaps in a long-term care facility.”