The Independent Difference: Navigating Medicare Open Enrollment

November 12, 2015 | Jessica Ehret

After working with iMedicare for the past several months, I am more of a Medicare expert than I ever intended to be. Suddenly, I’m armed with information on Medicare penalty fees, the differences between Advantage Plans and typical Part D plans, enrollment processes, and so much more. I can finally answer some of my patients’ most difficult and mystifying Medicare questions and I am excited about it. Do you think the pharmacist down the street at Walgreens can answer these questions? I don’t think so.

It isn’t that pharmacist at the large chain stores aren’t capable of understanding the nuances of Part D programs. Rather, their organizations will not allow their pharmacists to spend the 15-20 minutes it takes in consultation with a patient when it doesn’t directly increase pharmacy revenue. Working for an independent pharmacy allows me that freedom. I am grateful for this time because it exponentially improves the impact that I can have on my patients. With regard to Medicare counselling, this impact has meant saving a few patients more than $3,000 on their Medicare Part D plans for 2016. As a result, my patients leave happy and I can’t wipe the smile off my face. Just think what it means to people on a fixed income when they save hundreds or even thousands of dollars on prescriptions. It makes my time spent learning about Medicare more than worth it.

Now that I have learned where to look and who to ask for Medicare information, I am also becoming much more efficient at completing iMedicare visits. Now I just need more patients. Here is what is working at our store:

  • Word of mouth. One happy customer with several friends = many happy customers!
  • Community connections. In visits to senior centers and talks at local senior living facilities, I’ve been framing the conversation around “what can your pharmacy do for you?” These talks give me a chance to tell everyone why our independent pharmacy is different from other pharmacies in town, and I can use them to encourage people to sign up for iMedicare visits during these meetings.
  • Working with local insurance agents. Once they realize we aren’t stepping on their toes, insurance agents are more than happy to let us help them through Open Enrollment. In this case, we send patients back to their agent (armed with a plan of choice) to be enrolled.
  • Cash register conversations. “Do you and your loved ones have your Medicare Plans picked out for next year? We just helped save one of our patients more than $1,000 on his medications.”

Over the past few weeks and months, I’ve gone from hating Medicare, to being intrigued by Medicare, to being frustrated by Medicare to, ultimately, being happy to be able to sit down with my patients to provide a valuable, necessary service to them. If I am confused by Medicare, imagine how confused my patients are. I am learning a lot by doing these visits and I know they will get more and more rewarding as I learn more and more about Medicare.

As an independent pharmacist, I am thrilled to be able to take on daunting tasks like demystifying Medicare because I know that these services are what keep our doors open; they are what make us different from the large chains, and especially different from mail order pharmacies. There is nothing more valuable that I can give my patients than my time.

Independent DifferenceMedicare

Jessica Ehret

Jessica is a third-generation pharmacist and a 2014 graduate of the University of Minnesota College of Pharmacy. As a pharmacist with a communications background, she has found a unique niche in which she is able to educate, inform, and serve her patient community. When Jessica isn't in the pharmacy or hosting her weekly radio show, you can find her planning her next getaway, near or far, with her husband, friends, and family.