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Updated 3:00 PM May 2, 2006
 

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Students to help seniors evaluate Medicare Part D

In her part-time work as a retail pharmacist, Carrie Mulvahill had five people in one week ask for her help in picking a drug-coverage plan under the new Medicare Part D program.

In response to that kind of need, Mulvahill and Christina Chi, doctoral students in the School of Pharmacy, are planning a workshop from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. April 27 in the Ann Arbor Public Library at 343 S. Fifth Ave., where students will help senior citizens sort through the numerous available government plans to determine which will best cover their prescriptions.

"It's quite confusing," Chi says. "I'm a pharmacy student and it took me a long time to understand. You can see why people would have questions about what to do."

Medicare, the nation's largest health insurance program, covers nearly 40 million Americans. It serves people 65 and older, some disabled people under 65, and people with end-stage renal disease. Medicare began offering drug coverage Jan. 1.

Nancy Mason, clinical associate professor of pharmacy, initially recruited students to help senior citizens untangle Medicare Part D, the new program that covers seniors' prescriptions. She invited Medicare representatives to the college for a half-day training session to teach students how to assess a patient's sometimes-lengthy list of prescriptions and to help them choose the plan that offers them the best coverage.

Armed with laptop computers, the students learned to key in patient medications to find the best plan. Then they volunteered to help at Plan D information days at nearly a dozen pharmacies around Ann Arbor.

Still, Mulvahill and Chi wanted to do more. They decided to arrange an event, independent of any pharmacy, so area seniors with questions could get help before the looming May 15 Plan D enrollment deadline.

Helping one patient select a drug coverage plan can take up to an hour, depending on the complexity of the person's needs, so the students say it can be difficult for busy pharmacists to take the time to step through all the necessary questions, particularly if other customers are waiting.

"A lot of students who don't usually get involved are volunteering because they see the need," says Chi, who expects about 20 students to pitch in.

Chi and Mulvahill say if people are unable to attend the workshop they will be happy to offer advice via e-mail. For more information, contact Chi at christina.chi@gmail.com or Mulvahill at carrilyn@umich.edu.

The event is sponsored by the College of Pharmacy. Information on Medicare Part D can be found at www.medicare.gov/medicarereform/drugbenefit.asp.

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