Pharmacy Students Volunteer to Answer Callers’ Medicare Questions

Pharmacy students at Roseman University are volunteering to help Nevada’s Medicare population learn more about their insurance coverage, and a new grant is expected to boost their efforts.

The students, who have been trained through the Nevada State Health Insurance Assistance Program, operate the school’s Medicare Call Lab, answering questions from Medicare participants and their families about insurance plans, prescription coverage and possible state and federal assistance eligibility.

Training for the students, members of Roseman’s chapter of the American Society of Consultant Pharmacists, includes the basics of Medicare, listening to advisers take and respond to questions and practicing logging information.

“You can still really help the patient save a lot of money and really help their lives get a little better,” said volunteer Agafe Saguros.

Saguros was still new to the call lab when she connected with a woman who was taking several cancer medications.

A second-year student in the university’s doctor of pharmacy program, Saguros said she realized the woman was eligible for a state assistance program that could save the Medicare participant nearly $1,000 a month.

“It doesn’t really hit you until you actually see that,” she said.

It wasn’t the only time a student at the call lab has helped someone save money. Another student saved a Medicare participant nearly $600 a month, said Leiana Oswald, an assistant professor of pharmacy practice and one of the students’ advisers.

The State Health Insurance Assistance Program, or SHIP, operates offices across the state and provides the students with lists of calls to make. The students also operate their own call line.

About 20 students are fully trained to volunteer in the lab, and from three to five students might be in the lab at one time, Oswald said.

If a caller’s questions are too detailed, Roseman students will leave information for a SHIP counselor to connect with the caller.

A $50,000 award through grant competition NobleCause will be distributed this month, allowing the lab to purchase tablets, dividers to separate students’ workstations and dual headsets to speed up training. It’ll also fund contract work with SHIP to have those counselors work more with students.

The goal is to widen the scope of services offered and allow the volume of calls to grow, Oswald said. Advisers hope to have students scheduling medication reviews for patients and offering additional services during health fairs.

Paul Manabat, a pharmacy student graduating in June, said he believes the knowledge he’s gained through being affiliated with the call lab will give him an advantage when working with patients.

“I actually have the skills and the knowledge to tell them, ‘There is hope for you,’” he said.

Oswald said she grew frustrated as a retail pharmacist with not having gained enough knowledge about Medicare in school.

“Pharmacists don’t, when we get out, have extensive training in Medicare, which is ironic because we’re on the frontlines,” she said.

She added that the student line, which runs year-round, allows students to confront problems such as the doughnut hole, Medicare’s prescription drug coverage gap, directly.

Debbie Letts, one of the SHIP volunteers who oversees the students, said she was impressed by their willingness to guide callers through sometimes complicated Medicare processes.

“Every call is a new experience because everybody has different issues, and they have different problems,” she said.

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