Dr. Rajul Patel, PharmD, PhD, Assistant Professor at the University of the Pacific, Thomas J. Long School of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, just completed his 3rd successful year of Medicare Part D outreach to hundreds of low-income and limited English speaking proficiency Medicare beneficiaries within Santa Clara, Sacramento and San Joaquin counties. This outreach is part of a popular elective course he offers to pharmacy students each fall entitled, Medicare Part D: Fundamentals, Application and Outreach.
“I’m privileged to work with such a great group of students,” Dr. Patel says. “They go above and beyond what’s required of them and are finding their own passion for community service.” In fact, this year’s 25 students did more than twice the amount of community outreach hours required in the course. Students completed 510.5 hours, 260.5 hours over the required 250 hours.
Community Outreach as a “Full-Blown Intervention”
To prepare students for their community outreach interventions, Patel gives them 30 hours of intensive training and practice with case studies on Medicare Part D before the Part D Annual Election Period (AEP) begins in November. The AEP, from Nov. 15- Dec. 31, is when beneficiaries can enroll into, switch or disenroll from a Part D prescription drug plan. Because options for beneficiaries are many and can be confusing to sort out, Patel and his students focus their outreach efforts during this time.
Each outreach event is a “full-blown intervention,” says Patel, “with students offering beneficiaries one-on-one counseling on their medication questions, help in choosing and enrolling into a Part D plan and help applying for the Part D low-income subsidy (LIS), if eligible.” Students review beneficiaries’ medications, answer any drug-related questions beneficiaries may have and identify whether other more cost-effective drug therapy options are available, such as various therapeutic alternatives or over-the-counter medications. Students then use Medicare’s Plan Finder tool to evaluate all the plan offerings in each beneficiary’s area and help beneficiaries identify the plan that best meets their needs. If eligible, they also help beneficiaries fill out a low-income subsidy application on the Social Security website.
Some of these outreach events turn into large health fairs where people can get their blood pressure, bone mineral density, blood glucose and/or cholesterol levels checked, meet with a Health Insurance Counseling & Advocacy Program (HICAP) counselor for help with other Medicare questions, and receive information on other community resources. During 2009’s AEP, Patel and his students held 11 events in 7 different cities, including San Jose, Sacramento, Stockton and Modesto. The program has grown in size and scope since its inception three years ago as evidenced by the fact that the number of Medicare beneficiaries helped has risen from 75 people in the their first year in 2007 to 285 people in 2009. They also served beneficiaries in 7 languages other than English, including, Spanish, Vietnamese, Mandarin, Cantonese and Tagalog among others.
In addition to their outreach events, they also have a helpline available for beneficiaries and providers. People can leave messages in any language and Patel, other faculty members or students will return calls and offer assistance.
How this Student-Based Part D Community Outreach Started: Formation of ‘Partners in D’
As a community pharmacist, Dr. Patel immediately saw the need for assistance when the Part D benefit began in 2006. Beneficiaries and providers alike were overwhelmed in trying to navigate this new drug benefit and the various ‘barriers’ to coverage set up by Part D plans, such as quantity limits and step therapy. As pharmacists were often the first place beneficiaries went to receive their drugs, Patel was inspired to create a structure to educate providers (pharmacists and doctors) on this drug benefit, how it works, and ways to help beneficiaires use their Part D benefit effectively and trouble shoot any coverage issues.
Faculty members of the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) pharmacy school also saw a similar need and applied for and were awarded a grant from the Agmen Foundation to form Partners in D — a collaboration of 7 pharmacy schools throughout the state which aims to assist Medicare beneficiaries and educate healthcare professionals about the Part D benefit. Patel and his school, University of the Pacific, are one of the 7 schools participating in this collaboration. The other 6 schools include:
- University of California, San Francisco (UCSF)
- Loma Linda University
- Touro University, California
- University of California, San Diego
- University of Southern California
- Western University of Health Sciences
Collaborating with Partners in D
While 2009 was the 3rd year of a 3-year grant, this program will continue. Patel welcomes collaboration with new partners and any assistance in putting out a good word for this program, distributing program brochures and flyers to residents in low-income and/or senior housing units, and jointly offering services at outreach/edcuation events. People interested in collaborating with Patel can contact him at:
Rajul A. Patel
Assistant Professor: Department of Pharmacy Practice
University of the Pacific
Thomas J. Long School of Pharmacy and Health Sciences
3601 Pacific Avenue
Stockton, CA 95211
Office: (209) 946-3151