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Pharmacy students match senior citizens with proper drug plans

by Beth Krane - April 3, 2006

A group of 160 students in UConn’s School of Pharmacy has been helping many of the Connecticut Department of Social Services’ 48,000 ConnPACE clients find the appropriate Medicare Part D plans to pay for their medications.

With a May 15 deadline approaching for seniors to either enroll in a Medicare drug plan without penalty or switch plans, the pharmacy students are wading through more than 16,000 profiles of ConnPACE clients.

Each of the ConnPACE clients – some seniors, some disabled people – takes between three and six “maintenance” medications a month, not including occasional other prescriptions for infections or other problems.

The students’ job is to review each person’s medication regimen, and narrow the choices down from the 44 options available in Connecticut to three plans that cover all the person’s medications, wherever possible.

The partnership between the School of Pharmacy and the state – believed to be a first nationwide – has been lauded by the federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and has drawn inquiries from other states hoping to duplicate it, says Peter Tyczkowski, the school’s educational outreach coordinator.

Tyczkowski has been overseeing the students’ work.

The students also recently took second place in a national competition for Medicare outreach programs held by the National Council of State Pharmacy Association Executives.

In December, about 80 UConn pharmacy students reviewed the initial 4,000 ConnPACE client profiles as the first deadline for the program neared.

In addition to the 16,000 cases the students are currently working on, they may also be asked to review 4,000 additional patient profiles with slightly more complex drug regimens.

“The students are performing an invaluable community service by providing individualized reviews of our clients’ medication regimens,” says Department of Social Services Deputy Commissioner Michael Starkowski.

“They are pairing our clients with the most appropriate plans and making sure they receive the maximum benefits from the new Medicare drug plan. They also are helping reduce confusion at the pharmacy counter and reduce the need for doctors and pharmacists to request exceptions for non-formulary drugs.”

The students, in turn, “are receiving first-hand knowledge of Medicare Part D and the complex combinations of medicine on which our seniors rely,” he adds.

Katie Myers, a senior majoring in pharmacy, works with other students on spreadsheets for the Medicare Outreach Program at the library in the Pharmacy/Biology Building.
Katie Myers, a senior majoring in pharmacy, works with other students on spreadsheets for the Medicare Outreach Program at the library in the Pharmacy/Biology Building.
Photo by Jordan Bender

The state is compensating the students for their work, which shows the value of pharmacists’ services, Tyczkowski says.

The students’ work is crucial for ConnPACE clients and the state, he says.

ConnPACE clients have only one opportunity to change plans between now and May 15 without penalty, so it is important that the students pair them with the best possible plans.

Additionally, the state legislature has agreed to fund through June 30 any medications for ConnPACE clients that are not covered by Medicare, which would create a large financial burden for the state if the best plans are not selected, Starkowski says.

Should the final state appropriation for Fiscal Year 2007 continue that funding beyond June 30, the students’ work also has the potential to save the state a tremendous amount of money, he says.

The students, organized and led by five student “captains” who review their work before handing it to Tyczkowski for quality assurance, say the project has not been without challenges.

The workload is heavy, and time is tight. Also, no two patient profiles are identical, so each one involves finding solutions to different problems. But, they say, the rewards far outweigh the challenges.

“It’s astounding the number of seniors we have been able to help with this project, says Meghan Scagliarini, a fifth-year pharmacy student and one of the captains.

“We are all proud that the state of Connecticut looked to student pharmacists as a valuable resource in such a project. Knowing we can make a difference in our state as students is exciting and makes all the hard work worthwhile.”

Alison Smith, also a fifth-year pharmacy student and student captain, adds that it is an “amazing feeling … being a part of something so innovative.”

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