Saturday, November 22, 2008

Partners in D in Full Force during the Open-Enrollment Period

Every fall quarter, Partners in D, a state-wide initiative spearheaded by faculty members at UCSF School of Pharmacy and funded by the Amgen Foundation, offers an elective class to students interested helping seniors with their Medicare Part D plans. After thirteen hours of intensive training over a four-week period this fall, over thirty student pharmacists became Medicare Part D specialists, serving as patient advocates in the greater San Francisco areas.

Most of the Partners in D outreach events take place in senior housing complexes and clinics. In only one short week after the beginning of the open-enrollment period (November 15th to December 31st), Partners in D has gone to five different underserved communities, helping over one hundred seniors from various ethnic backgrounds find and enroll in the most economical Medicare Part D plans for 2009.

As one of the two student coordinators for the Partners in D outreach program, I attended four out of the five outreaches this past week. Given my busy second-year-pharmacy-school schedule, which involves not only studying the essential materials from my classes, but also leadership responsibilities from more than one organization, I have been very sleep-deprived this quarter. Nevertheless, the experiences and rewards that I have reaped from the time I have put into the Medicare Part D elective and outreach are invaluable.

For one thing, I have acquired a tremendous amount of information about Medicare Part D from two of the most enthusiastic authorities in this subject, Dr. Marilyn Stebbins and Dr. Tim Cutler. Having attended all the training sessions for the second time (I took the elective class last year), I now feel a lot more confident in being a patient advocate for Medicare Part D, something that I will be heavily involved in as a student-intern at my sister’s independently owned pharmacy. I now have winter job security because she has hired me as the “expert” to help patients with their Medicare Part D plans.

More importantly, I have rediscovered the joy of public service, a strong and intrinsically rewarding feeling that I have not experienced at this magnitude in a long while. No matter how tired I was after each event and how I wish there were more hours in a day for me to squeeze in some studying, I would be happy that I had been involved. Every single senior that I helped had showed a tremendous amount of appreciation for my knowledge and time to provide them with the information and assistance that they otherwise would not have gotten elsewhere.

With the guidance of my energetic preceptors, Marilyn and Tim, I have helped seniors saved thousands of dollars from their drug cost in 2009 by enrolling them in the most cost effective plans, based on their current medications. This week, the most money that Partners in D had saved for one person was over $19,000!

Who knows what these seniors would do if Partners in D were not acting on their behalves? They may be stuck on very expensive plans and end up resorting to skipping doses, not filling their prescriptions or buying their medicines from another country to save money. They may go broke paying for their medicines in order to stay healthy or end up critically ill in the hospital due to cost-related non-adherence.

The more outreach events that I attend, the more I value the foresights of the UCSF leaders who created Partners in D. However, a disturbing truth lingers in my mind: Although Partners in D is a state-wide project and all the pharmacy schools in California are helping seniors with their Medicare Part D plans, we are only reaching a small percentage of the elderly population in California, not to mention nationally.

Despite the availability of a website ( as an unbiased source for plan comparisons, only about two percent of the senior population utilizes it. Most are not even aware of its existence. The plan finder tool within this site is so difficult that I, along with most of my Medicare Part D classmates, could not even navigate through without the proper training. I cannot imagine how the pre-Internet generation can figure out the way to use it without aid.

Throughout our interventions this week, we have come across seniors enrolled in unnecessary and expensive health plans through sales representatives who offer them free gym memberships or rides to their providers. As a result, they can no longer see their regular physicians and pay more for the health care. Unfortunately, for some of those seniors, the consequences of their “choices” are not reversible until the beginning of 2009.

As a product of the Asian culture and philosophy, where the elderly are well respected and supported, I have an extremely difficult time seeing the jewels of our wisdom and the bridges of our future extremely helpless in a matter so vital in their retirement years. Until the government finds more practical and available solutions to support seniors in their Medicare Part D decisions, healthcare providers are the best and most accessible resources during this long adjustment period.

To become a Medicare Part D patient advocate, you can enroll in Partners in D’s fall elective class offered through the School of Pharmacy. It is open to students from all schools at UCSF. In addition, the following are web resources for additional information about Medicare Part D:

Sunday, November 9, 2008

It's Been a While

It seems forever since I last blogged. I should be studying for my physio exam, which is bright and early tomorrow morning, but I think I'm too burned out from trying to jam 200 pages of condensed materials in my head over the past few days. I have no idea what I know and what I don't know but I just don't care. I ran out of steam this time.

I still enjoy learning and have been pretty good sticking to my studying schedule this quarter. Unfortunately, there is just so much information for my slow brain to keep up with all the classes. I guess I'll go to the gym, get my frustrations out and hopefully will be able to get something in my head so I won't fail the test tomorrow. Arghhhh......