For the survey, 1,000 U.S. Medicare Part D beneficiaries, age 65 and older, were interviewed by telephone April 8 and 15. It revealed confusion among the 31.5 million patients in the U.S. Up to half of them are confused about specific cost-saving benefit of specific plans.
“The biggest problem seniors are facing is the cost of medication,” said Mona Majmudar, who has been a pharmacist at Walgreens in Norcross for almost 14 years. “Stats show one in five seniors will skip doses or be late picking them up.”
She said when she asks Medicare patients why they are late picking up specific prescriptions, they say they cannot afford to take it as their doctor prescribed.
“Then, we’ll sit down and take their blood pressure and show them the importance of taking that medication,” Majmudar said. “It will cost more in the long run being non-compliant. They will end up in the ER.”
She said the most important thing for Medicare beneficiaries to do is to use their plan’s preferred pharmacy because they will save money that way, particularly when paying co-pays.
For example, Walgreens is preferred with Coventry, United Healthcare and Humana.
Additionally, the survey found nearly 30 percent of the beneficiaries do not know they can switch pharmacies at any time because they think it can only be done during Medicare’s annual election period, or open enrollment.
“They sign up for [a Medicare plan] during open enrollment [from late October to late December] and don’t realize there is a preferred pharmacy,” Majmudar said.
But she said it is easy to change, and encourages it when seniors switch from non-preferred to preferred pharmacies.
“We will transfer prescriptions and call doctors if they don’t have refills,” Majmudar said.
Plus, she recommends patients fill 90-day prescriptions, instead of monthly prescriptions, to reduce trips to the pharmacy.
John Norton, a spokesman for the National Community Pharmacists Association, an Alexandria, Va.-based organization representing pharmacists across the country, said seniors struggle with changing pharmacy routines.
“The proliferation of preferred provider plans locks patients out of certain pharmacies. They’re being forced away from pharmacies they’ve been using,” he said. “A lot of times, seniors have multiple conditions with a wide variety of pills and a medication regime.”
Norton said it is often hard for seniors to switch pharmacies because they have gotten comfortable and often establish relationships with their pharmacists.
He said the best tool for patients to use is the plan finder on the Medicare website at https://www.medicare.gov/find-a-plan/questions/home.aspx.
Vivika Panagiotakakos, a spokeswoman for Deerfield, Ill.-based Walgreens, said the most important piece of advice for seniors is to have a conversation with their pharmacist to better understand all of the medications they must take.
She said beneficiaries should ask the questions about their plan’s coverage specifics to get a better sense of what discounts would be available.
“It’s to make sure they understand why they’ve been prescribed it and how it impacts their condition, and to find out ways to save money,” Panagiotakakos said. “That’s why pharmacists are there and to help them really understand their condition and what options are out there.”