Partnering to Build a Healthier Community
Pacific's Medicare Part D Program and the Valley Mountain Regional Center (VMRC) share a common goal in providing services and support to help people lead healthier lives in their communities.
Rajul A. Patel '01, '06, PharmD, PhD, professor of pharmacy practice, saw a need for increased community outreach to the developmentally disabled population in the region. In 2016, he approached the VMRC with a proof of-concept proposal to assist VMRC clients who had prescription drug coverage through Medicare with their out-of-pocket Part D costs, while also providing a comprehensive review of their medications. Services were provided by trained pharmacy students during the fall Medicare Part D outreach clinics to community attendees as well as clients identified by the VMRC. Each subsequent year, students have assisted an average of 80 VMRC clients during the Medicare open enrollment period and identified potential savings averaging $1,700 per VMRC client.
The success of this early effort opened the doors to expand this unique partnership to support roughly 1,300 VMRC clients, most of whom are dual-eligible (they have Medicare and Medi-Cal). Medicare beneficiaries who also have Medi-Cal are those with the lowest income and most limited resources. Medicare provides some safeguards for this vulnerable population, including their ability to change their Part D plan outside of the fall open enrollment period.
In January 2019, a pharmacy elective course titled "Part D Services for the Developmentally Disabled" was offered for the first time and was taught by Carly Ranson '13, '17, PharmD, MS, BCGP, assistant professor of pharmacy practice, and Dr. Patel. The elective course's core service was to evaluate the Part D plan and other offerings for each VMRC client in light of their medications, preferred pharmacy and receipt of additional governmental subsidies.
In just four months, this expanded partnership has saved clients and the VMRC an estimated $1.69 million on their out-of-pocket prescription drug expenditures. "The tangible benefit to the VMRC is that they can rest assured the costs are minimized to the greatest extent possible," said Dr. Patel. "If these drugs work we don't want to change them, but we certainly want to minimize the cost of these medications whenever possible."
Last year, 45 doctor of pharmacy (PharmD) students enrolled and participated in the Medicare Part D Outreach program elective. Of those, 38 decided to add the elective course to their rigorous academic load, despite having already fulfilled the PharmD elective requirement with the past years' outreach activities.
"Being part of the Medicare Part D outreach program has certainly enriched my learning and sparked my passion for patient care," said second-year PharmD student Yi "Allan" Yao '20. "It gave me the opportunity to put what I have learned into action and the positive feedback that the patients provided further encouraged me to try harder. Each patient interaction required different things and being able to help them gave me a sense of accomplishment as a health care provider."
Dr. Ranson appreciates the opportunity to utilize Pacific's strengths to support a community organization that provides resources and services to a vulnerable population. More importantly, Dr. Ranson finds it rewarding to see the excitement of pharmacy students working with real patients. She realizes that dealing with insurance is not for everyone, but the students' care and dedication is very encouraging.
"It's a humbling experience to see the students come back every single week. They are exhausted from their week, but are excited to assist and stay as late as the client situation requires," Dr. Ranson said. "These are individuals who are doing this because they can and because it is the right thing to do. These are individuals I want to continue to work with."
The partnership with the VMRC has been in the works for many years. Nearly 20 years ago, Berit Gundersen '84, PharmD, vice provost and former pharmacy practice faculty member at Pacific, established a partnership with the VMRC to provide clinical pharmacy consultation services. William A. Kehoe '96, MA, PharmD, FCCP, BCPS, professor emeritus of pharmacy practice, continues to serve in this capacity. Today, students have the opportunity to step into this role as they continue to serve this population on a large scale through Part D optimization services. "The lessons students gain from these types of experiences are invaluable and the success of this year's endeavors would not have been possible without the dedication of the students," said Dr. Ranson.