Pharmacy Students Step Up for Seniors

In November 2018, 70 USC School of Pharmacy students held a free four-day workshop on the USC Health Sciences Campus to help dozens of university retirees and their spouses enroll in the Medicare Part D plan that’s right for them. Through the project, students helped retirees save over $70,000. Average annual savings for those who switched plans was $1,735, with the highest annual savings totaling an impressive $16,192.

Medicare Part D is designed to lower seniors’ prescription drug costs, but many find it difficult to navigate to choose optimal coverage.

“If you’re not familiar with medications and insurance, it can be a confusing process,” says Bradley Williams, retired professor of clinical pharmacy and clinical gerontology, and one of the advisors for 2018 Medicare Part D Enrollment Week. “Retirees often have the most trouble interpreting costs of the plans, which is made more difficult because their disease states and medication needs frequently change.”

Students prepared for the workshop with a prep session conducted by the Center for Health Care Rights, a nonprofit focused on healthcare advocacy and health insurance counseling. They also trained with Williams, reviewing case studies and becoming familiar with Medicare’s “find-a-plan” feature.

Third-year pharmacy student Kevin Yen counsels USC retiree Shanrong Shi, 82, on the optimal Medicare Part D plan for his specific needs. (Photo by Linda Wang)

Many retirees, like Shanrong Shi, 82, find the workshop so beneficial that they return every year. “The students are computer savvy and have the expertise to help me save a lot of money,” Shi says. “This is a great service for seniors.”

The student volunteers say the project is a valuable learning experience. “It’s good exposure that I can take with me as I help my older family members look at Medicare Part D options,” says Kevin Yen, a third-year PharmD student.

Amanda Nguyen, student coordinator for the workshop, adds that patient interaction benefits students by further developing interpersonal skills and an appreciation for the challenges of older adults when navigating medications and insurance.

The intergenerational nature of the workshop provides an added benefit. “The retirees will talk about what they used to do and what the university was like when they were employees here,” Williams says. “So, the workshop gives students a sense of USC’s history.”