Students Get Firsthand Look at Healthcare Access

Monday, March 10, 2008

Adequate healthcare may be beyond the realm of college students outside of presidential debates or searching for jobs with benefit packages.

But a group of Saint Joseph's University students are learning firsthand how difficult and confusing healthcare can be through the service-learning course, "The Ethics of Healthcare." Each week, the class visits Mercy Wellness Center in West Philadelphia to interview senior patients and clients on what kinds of healthcare they have. The service provided by the students will help to educate those who use Mercy Wellness Center for their rehabilitation and health needs.

The service-learning course, which was also offered last fall at a different site, is taught by George Sillup, Ph.D., assistant professor of pharmaceutical marketing.

"Just because the United States has sophisticated levels of healthcare doesn't necessarily mean that everyone has access to it," said Sillup. "Many seniors have a difficult time getting coverage for their prescription medications and/or paying for the drugs they have to take."

The class has been surprised by all of the problems seniors can face in getting their healthcare.

"We are talking to people who go without health insurance just because it's so difficult to qualify for and obtain a policy," said Jaclyn Zeoli, '08.

"The nice thing about this program is that I'm a pharmaceutical marketing major, and this is the same industry I'll be going into," said Lauren Weld, '08. "The class gives me good firsthand experience, but on the service end, instead of the business end. That's something I wouldn't have gotten otherwise."

Students also call insurance companies to gather policy information for single adults 50 to 64 years old. They will then piece together a guide for seniors to compare different insurers.

Finding information on policies can be a difficult road to navigate, however.

"Most insurance companies direct you to their Web site for information on policies when you call for information," said Jeffrey Robert, '08. "But not every senior citizen has access to a computer, let alone the Internet. And if they do, many wouldn't know how to do it. It was even difficult for me to find information on the Web site."

Linda Keller Doyle, regional fitness coordinator at Mercy Wellness Center, has been working with Sillup's class at the service site. She has coordinated the interviews that the students conduct with patients and clients so they can learn about the kinds of coverage people have.

"A lot of the people who come here are uninsured or underinsured," said Keller Doyle. "Some of them were here for physical therapy, but their insurance ran out before they were done."

The students will also become experts in Medicare Part D, the federal program to subsidize prescription drug costs, and will advise seniors at Mercy Wellness Center on how to use Medicare efficiently.

"Having these students will be a great resource to us," said Keller Doyle. "They will be able to teach our patients and clients about Medicare, from how to get their drugs to what to do if they get a denial."

"It's really been an eye-opening experience," said Robert. "I've never thought about how expensive coverage can be, maybe because I've never seen a bill for health insurance." Keller Doyle said that Sillup's students are helping seniors to find options that work for them.

"If you talk to 10 different insurers, each will have their own requirements. These requirements can change monthly, sometimes even weekly," said Keller Doyle. "The research that the students are conducting will clarify these complicated systems and help our patients tremendously in learning their healthcare options."

--David King '08

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