STOCKTON — This fall marks the 10th year the Medicare Part D outreach program provided by University of the Pacific has offered free clinics to beneficiaries throughout Northern California, helping them navigate the complex process of enrolling in the best prescription drug program for their personal needs.

In the past nine years, the clinics have assisted more than 4,500 seniors and other Medicare beneficiaries, saving them an average of more than $1,000 each for a combined $4.6 million in drug costs.

The first of 13 outreach events this year, scheduled for Oct. 15 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the university’s Thomas J. Long School of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, 757 Brookside Road in Stockton, will be the 100th clinic staffed by Pacific pharmacy students under the supervision of licensed pharmacists.

Every year, the private insurance companies that offer Part D drug coverage change their pricing and, more critically for patients, the prescription medications they cover, also known as the formulary. That requires that every beneficiary review the plan they have to ensure it still covers their drugs at a price they can afford.

The pharmacy students are there to help beneficiaries figure this out. If there is a better Part D plan for 2017, they will help participants find it and enroll them during the open enrollment period that runs from Oct. 15 through Dec. 7.

Trust with a beneficiary’s personal and medical information is a critical component, and Medicare outreach program founder Rajul Patel — professor of pharmacy practice at Pacific — believes that has been recognized.

“We’ve been around now for 10 years. This season shows that, over the years, we have been able to establish trust with the communities we serve because they continue to return and we have new people show up every year,” Patel said.

“We provide unbiased advocacy for them in the community. The most important thing to me is to never compromise that trust. It is very important information that we are working with.”

Phillip Oppenheimer, longtime dean of Pacific’s pharmacy school, sees the Part D outreach program as a “triple win” for patients, students and the school’s faculty.

“The patients who come not only get their plans reviewed — that’s important because formularies change every year and how much you pay for drugs every year. Nearly eight out of 10 people who come in save money,” Oppenheimer said.

“In addition, the students also do a medication therapy review, talking to the patients about their medications and looking for any potential drug interactions.” He described that as one of the most important components of the outreach program.

Pharmacy students, Oppenheimer said, “benefit tremendously by getting an outstanding experience under the mentorship of faculty and community mentors. They learn not only about Medicare Part D but also the therapeutics associated with it.”

Over the years, the clinics have expanded to include helping beneficiaries get access to medications not covered by their plans by working with the drug manufacturers.

The clinics also include comprehensive screenings for blood pressure, diabetes, cholesterol, fall risks, bone density, asthma and mental health, providing hands-on experiences for the students.

For pharmacy faculty, the hundreds of beneficiaries who come to the clinics each year provide them with invaluable health data that allows them to measure the impact such a program has on a community.

“I hope this program continues for many years to come,” Oppenheimer said. “It never would have happened without the innovation of Dr. Raj Patel and a great team of faculty. This is his baby — I’m so proud of him and this program.”

— Contact reporter Joe Goldeen at (209) 546-8278 or Follow him at and on Twitter @JoeGoldeen.