Multilingual Pharmacy Students Hit the Road With Medicare Part D Workshop for Seniors

By Jeff Miller

by Jeff Miller How do you say "Medicare Part D" in five languages? UCSF doctor of pharmacy students answered that question and hundreds of others Saturday in a multilingual workshop for seniors at San Francisco's Mission Creek Community Mercy Housing.
Pharmacy student Olga Mostovetsky, center, and fellow doctor of pharmacy students take a quick break before the Medicare Part D program begins.
Students from the UCSF School of Pharmacy, the nation's top-ranked pharmacy school, shepherded the elderly from the sign-in desk to sign-up computers, arranged at tables catering to Mandarin, Cantonese, Russian, Spanish and English speakers. "This is a godsend," said resident Joe Bailey. "I am totally in the dark about Medicare."
Olga Mostovetsky welcomes Russian-speaking seniors to the Medicare Part D workshop.
Confusion has been a hallmark of the new mandatory prescription drug plan, known as Medicare Part D, since hundreds of private insurers across the country began enrolling members in competing plans in January 2006. That confusion has proven particularly onerous for the elderly, low-income and the disabled, many of whom have either not yet chosen a plan or were automatically enrolled by the government in a plan they did not understand. With a May 15 enrollment deadline looming, UCSF pharmacy students like Olga Mostovetsky and Philip Chan brought both clarity and reassurance to a population desperate to understand the complicated federal program. "It's difficult and exciting to explain this drug plan to someone who doesn't speak English," said Moslovetsky. Chan concurred. "Navigating the Medicare website is confusing for people, and even if we found that they were already enrolled, many of them still wanted to make sure that the drugs they were taking were OK."
Pharmacy students Kimberly Nguyen Truong and Philip Chan doublecheck the translation of certain drugs.
More than two dozen residents of the just-opened housing complex, many clutching their cache of pill bottles, took advantage of the expert, free and friendly advice. Department of Clinical Pharmacy Chair Joe Guglielmo, PharmD, characterized the generosity of the white-coated students as living proof of the school's public service ethic. "We are committed to teaching the next generation of pharmacists to be exceptional patient advisers and advocates." UCSF School of Pharmacy faculty and students have already counseled more than 2,000 Northern California seniors in the intricacies of Part D, explained Clinical Professor Marilyn Stebbins, PharmD, who, together with Assistant Clinical Professor Tim Cutler, PharmD, served as the students' expert advisers for the morning event.
Pharmacy student Sally Tzeng prepares to help one of the workshop participants.
Advice spanned the spectrum - from how to switch to a better and cheaper insurance plan to avoiding drug interactions and duplicative therapy. "We discovered several people who were taking the same drug at the same time, just at different dosages. They had never had the proper counseling until today," said Cutler. Cutler and his colleagues also discovered that the zip code for the new housing complex - since it is in San Francisco's newest neighborhood near AT&T Park- was not yet recognized by the Medicare website. Invited community pharmacists from nearby Walgreens and Safeway were nonetheless able to offer on-the-spot confirmation that the seniors' drug plans were accepted at their pharmacies. In opening remarks, State Assembly Speaker pro Tempore Leland Yee and San Francisco Supervisor Chris Daly praised the partnership among UCSF's School of Pharmacy, Mission Creek Community Mercy Housing and the San Francisco Public Library, the latter two serving as co-sponsors of the workshop. Yee also singled out the pharmacy students. "It's gratifying that you students are willing to donate your time to help others. It makes me happy that in my old age, someone will be there to take care of me."
UCSF Public Affairs representative Wallace Ravven converses with KTVU, Channel 2 reporter David Stevenson who was covering the workshop.
Helen Wang and Sally Tzeng share a light moment with one of the Mandarin speakers at the workshop.
Welcoming Remarks at the Podium:
Sarah Lester, Branch Manager, Mission Bay, San Francisco Public Library, and Jose Vega, Community Operations Manager, Mission Creek Community Mercy Housing.
Mary Anne Koda Kimble, dean, UCSF School of Pharmacy, and State Assembly Speaker pro Tempore Leland Yee.
School of Pharmacy Clinical Professor Marilyn Stebbins, and San Francisco Supervisor Chris Daly.
A Medicare conversation in Spanish with pharmacy student Melissa Carey and faculty member Kirby Lee.
Tim Cutler in conversation with workshop participants.
Pharmacy student Philip Chan discusses medication coverage at the Medicare Part D workshop.
Pharmacy student Winston Wu demonstrates his Spanish-speaking skills with one of the residents.
Pharmacy students Cynthia Lee, Helen Wang and Jenny Huang help a participant review her medication coverage.
Faculty member and Health policy expert Helene Lipton with Joseph Guglielmo, chair of the department of clinical pharmacy.
Photos by Elisabeth Fall Links: Health Policy Expert Reads Mixed Signals on Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plan