Medicare Part D is a distant thought to most college students.
But on Saturday, Nov. 8 dozens of University of Missouri-Kansas City students came together and used their expertise to help senior citizens and caregivers navigate the complexities of Medicare Part D at the first Medicare Part D Health Fair.
The health fair was organized by the UMKC School of Pharmacy and School of Law Health Law Society as a way to give back to the community and help students hone their skills. Each school has conducted separate education events in the past but this is the first time they are coordinating their efforts to better serve the public.
The event, from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday at Pierson Hall, was open to those who have been using Medicare Part D for years or those ready to enroll for the first time.
The event was launched after several professionals and students realized that many seniors – no matter their education level – were overwhelmed by the complicated details of each plan.
“When people are overwhelmed, they can make a very incomplete decision and say, oh, this looks easy. And then you could end up with very high deductibles,” said Ann Marie Marciarille, UMKC Associate Professor of Law.
It’s also something that patients need to evaluate ever year based on their lifestyle and health changes.
“However careful they were out of the gate, they need to take this open enrollment period to re-evaluate,” Marciarille said.
The fair allowed visitors to listen and ask questions. On one side of the room, students from the health law club offered presentations about the fundamentals of Medicare Part D. On the other side of the room, pharmacy students offered one-on-one counseling to help seniors determine what plan best fits their individual needs.
In the past, pharmacy students went out to local pharmacies to answer questions. The fair allowed them to serve more consumers.
And that, volunteers believe, will almost certainly change more lives.
“We found out that a lot of patients have been on wrong plans that don’t fit their criteria,” said HyeWon Ham, a second-year pharmacy student who is helping to organize the event as part of the UMKC National Community Pharmacist Association. “We try to help them find a better plan to save money. A lot of people have been on wrong plans just because of lack of knowledge.”
Students have been astounded by the changes they’ve been able to make for families.
Student Joe Bonebrake helped one woman and her daughter save enough to remain in their home last year.
“We saved her about $15,000 a year. It was great. It was life-changing for them,” said Bonebrake, originally from Springfield, Missouri.
The patient had signed up for a plan before realizing that she would need to take a drug that wasn’t covered. She spent $23,000 every year on the life-saving medication.
Money had become so tight for the family that the patient’s daughter was considering selling her home and moving into an apartment to finance her mom’s prescription.
“They were kind of stuck,” he said.
The patient’s daughter had completed a lot of research on her own, but didn’t have access to as many resources as the students, Bonebrake said.
Helping the family was an eye-opening experience for him that will stay with him for decades to come.
“This was a really good experience to be able to see how you can impact a patient and the cost that they have to deal with,” he said. “Volunteering at events like this health fair are really good ways to be exposed to that sort of thing.”
Professors agree, noting that students need to have an understanding of what their customers are dealing with when they walk into their pharmacy.
“I think it raises awareness for the students,” said Peggy Kuehl, director of the Community Pharmacy Residency Program at UMKC.
It also gives students valuable experience interviewing patients about their medications and how they take those prescriptions, said Morgan Sperry, associate director of the Drug Information Center and Associate Clinical Professor.
Marciarille agrees, noting that it offers her health law students valuable insight into Part D.
“This kind of event offers health law students an opportunity to develop real expertise in Medicare Part D – as 3L Danon Williamson did by preparing the Medicare Part D educational materials to be used at the Part D Fair,” Marciarille said.
It also deepens their knowledge while developing critical public speaking skills.
“You will have to explain specialized things to intelligent people,” she said. “This happens in practice. People come from all walks of life in all degrees of sophistication.”
On average, the School of Pharmacy estimates that they have saved each patient about $800 a year simply by conducting the interview and double-checking their plan.
The counseling has also made a difference in adherence, Kuehl said.
“Along the way we discovered that we were able to help patients take all of their medicines. Sometimes they didn’t feel like they could afford all of their medicines,” Kuehl said.
Sperry and Marciarille said the joint-effort with the pharmacy and law schools also helps students think more about forming interprofessional relationships – a critical component of modern health care.
Bonebrake, who is in his final year of school, said he recommends other pharmacy students take advantage of the opportunity to volunteer.
“It’s something great for students to do to actually get out there in the community and have an impact in people’s lives. I would definitely recommend it to someone,” he said.