Auburn pharmacy students help Alabama seniors with Medicare Part D selection

AUBURN UNIVERSITY – Nearly 150 Medicare Part D enrollees across Alabama have benefited from a partnership between the Auburn University Harrison School of Pharmacy and Alabama’s State Health Insurance and Assistance Program.

Last fall, 17 events were held in 11 cities, where pharmacy students worked one-on-one with Medicare Part D beneficiaries to determine which prescription drug plan best suited their individual needs. The events were in Alexander City, Valley, Mobile, Auburn, Montgomery, Tuskegee, Phenix City, Wetumpka, Opelika, Roanoke and Eufaula.

“I saw this as an opportunity to bring the classroom to the community, something that can benefit everyone,” said Salisa Westrick, an associate professor in the Harrison School of Pharmacy’s Department of Health Outcomes Research and Policy.

Although online selection, via www.medicare.gov, makes the process more convenient, having to choose from 40 plans can make the task daunting even for those Medicare patients who are computer literate. This was the population the Alabama Department of Senior Services had in mind when it created the assistance program, known as SHIP.

“When beneficiaries participate in this program, they get free, unbiased assistance,” said Westrick. “One-on-one assistance is nice because each situation is different. One plan that is best for one person may not be best for another. We sit down with them and explain what everything means to them, so that they will be able to make the best decision for themselves.”

Since SHIP is dependent on volunteers to reach seniors across the state, 229 second- through fourth-year pharmacy students were certified to offer consultation through SHIP’s Online Training and Certification process. Three members of Auburn’s pharmacy faculty and staff were also certified.

“The SHIP program reviewed how and what we currently teach students,” said Westrick. “Then we customized a modified training program to certify the students.”

Of the enrollees served by Auburn and SHIP, 98 percent were satisfied with their assistance. The results showed that students helped beneficiaries save on average $278 compared to staying with their current plans.

“I was surprised to see the large number of patients looking for help,” said Elise Aucoin, a rising third-year pharmacy student at Auburn.

Aucoin was able to help one patient better understand his options for medication for himself and his wife. She printed out a chart that outlined the co-pays for each of their medications with monthly and yearly costs. He was then able to return home and explain everything to his wife.

“Finding the right plan for a patient has a ‘domino effect’ on their health,” Aucoin said. “Finding a plan that fits a patient’s financial capabilities means better medication adherence. Better medication adherence leads to better overall health. This program gives patients the opportunity to get help from someone trained about their Medicare Part D options.”

“The faculty, staff and students at Auburn are a valued part of the Alabama SHIP program and their participation enhances the education and counseling of Medicare beneficiaries as they make health care choices which impact their daily lives,” said SHIP Coordinator Dawn Glascock. “The pharmacy student model developed by Dr. Salisa Westrick is a sustainable and expandable model which could easily be adapted by other pharmacy schools.”

At the end of July, Westrick presented her final report on the program at the 2014 American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy Annual Meeting in Texas.

(Written by Mercedes Linton)

Media contacts:
Matt Crouch, Harrison School of Pharmacy, (334) 844-8310 (mcrouch@auburn.edu),
Mike Clardy, Office of Communications and Marketing, (334) 844-9999 (clardch@auburn.edu)