Harrison School of Pharmacy students to provide free Medicare enrollment counseling

AUBURN UNIVERSITY – Student pharmacists in Auburn’s Harrison School of Pharmacy will offer free enrollment counseling to Medicare recipients Oct. 15 through Nov. 14 as part of an outreach grant awarded by Auburn University’s Office of the Vice President for University Outreach. A schedule of enrollment events can be found at http://pharmacy.auburn.edu/medicare/Poster_All_Events_Final.pdf.

The Medicare Outreach Project is a partnership between Auburn’s Harrison School of Pharmacy and the Alabama Department of Senior Services’ State Health Insurance Program, known as SHIP. The SHIP program is administered locally across 13 Area Agencies on Aging offices to provide assistance to Medicare beneficiaries on all of their health coverage needs to help them select their prescription drug coverage plan, known as Part D. The outreach project will take place at 17 different events in 10 counties across the state of Alabama.

“For many Medicare beneficiaries, choosing a prescription drug plan can be very complicated – there are so many plans to choose from and they change from year-to-year,” explains Salisa Westrick, an associate professor in the Harrison School of Pharmacy’s Department of Pharmacy Care Systems and the grant’s project director. “We wanted to offer an opportunity for beneficiaries to receive unbiased, personalized information to help them select the plan that’s best for them.”

As part of the grant, student pharmacists are trained to serve as certified SHIP counselors who offer free and confidential assistance for Medicare beneficiaries. Student pharmacists will provide one-on-one counseling to beneficiaries and, when applicable, they will also be able to recommend options to further lower their medication costs. Attendees are encouraged to bring their insurance cards and a list of their medications or bring their current medications to the enrollment events.

“It is very important for Medicare beneficiaries to contact their local SHIP program whenever they have an issue with their current health coverage and also each year during open enrollment of Medicare. SHIP can also screen beneficiaries and their caregivers for a variety of public benefit programs that may help pay for prescription drugs, Medicare premiums, and co-pays,” said Commissioner Neal Morrison, Alabama Department of Senior Services.

The 17 enrollment sessions will be offered in Alexander City, Valley, Mobile, Auburn, Montgomery, Tuskegee, Phenix City, Wetumpka, Opelika, Roanoke and Eufaula. In these cities and counties, there are over 100,000 individuals who qualify for enrollment in a Part D plan. The events, scheduled from Oct. 15 to Nov. 14, coincide with the annual Part D open enrollment period.

Medicare Part D offers seniors and those with a disability better access to prescription drug insurance. Under Medicare Part D, multiple private insurance providers are allowed to offer a wide range of plans with varying prices (premiums), cost sharing (copayments and deductibles) and benefit features (medication coverage, coverage gaps). The typical Part D beneficiary faces a choice of about 40 Part D plans. Because plan benefits can change from year-to-year, beneficiaries are encouraged to reevaluate Part D plans annually. The online Medicare Plan Finder through www.medicare.gov is the primary means for Medicare beneficiaries to obtain the plan information and compare Part D plans. However, low computer literacy and inaccessibility to a computer/internet may prevent beneficiaries from choosing appropriate plans that best fit their needs. Because the Plan Finder is perceived to be complicated by most Part D beneficiaries, targeted assistance to help them choose appropriate plans is needed.

For more information on the Medicare Outreach Project, go to www.pharmacy.auburn.edu/medicare.

Contact: Salisa Westrick, Harrison School of Pharmacy, (334) 844-8314 (westrsc@auburn.edu),
Mike Clardy, Office of Communications and Marketing, (334) 844-9999 (clardch@auburn.edu)