AUBURN, Ala. — A pharmacy school is launching a program to help Medicare patients in Alabama unable to afford medications.

The Harrison School of Pharmacy at Auburn University is reaching out to pharmacists and pharmacies to join the Certified Aging Resource Educated Specialists, or CARES, Pharmacy Network, the Opelika-Auburn News ( reported. The idea for the network was born from a Medicare outreach project between the school and the Alabama Department of Senior Services.

Salisa Westrick is leading the charge in pushing the initiative forward. She is the associate professor in the Department of Health Outcomes Research and Policy.

“We have come to realize there are many Medicare patients who qualify for subsidy programs, but aren’t enrolled,” Westrick said. “More than likely, they aren’t enrolled because they don’t know these programs exist.”

Westrick said there is a problem in Alabama regarding elderly and disabled people who are likely eligible for Medicare subsidy programs, but are not enrolled and probably struggle to pay for their medications.

Pharmacy students have been trained in the past four years to help Medicare patients decide which plan best fits their needs. Westrick realized during one of the sessions the school could help meet another need.

This year, the CARES training program provides three hours of continuing education training for pharmacists and technicians.

“Because many people on Medicare don’t know these programs exist for them, they may be experiencing high premiums and high out-of-pocket costs for their medications,” said Westrick. “They may not buy their medications because of the cost. When they have to pay a co-pay of $50 for each brand name medication or when they fall into the coverage gap, it becomes unaffordable for many patients.”

Westrick said the training educates pharmacists and technicians to assist customers who might qualify for assistance. The training is free and offered online.

Customers will identify and refer them to Aging and Disability Resource Centers, where they will be screened for eligibility. The center will then assist qualified individuals with the application process.

“Aging and Disability Resource Centers are unbiased and their goal is to help patients find subsidy programs for which they qualify while continuing to receive services at their pharmacy,” Westrick said.