Although some people don’t view them this way, pharmacists are free community resources who are informed about much more than prescription and over-the-counter drugs.

To make people aware that community pharmacists can help them stay healthy, Health Mart Pharmacy (a franchise for independent pharmacists) partnered with a number of pharmaceutical companies to launch Health Across America: Pharmacists Partnering in Diabetes Care.

The nationwide campaign and screening tour teaches people how to use their community pharmacists to fight the type 2 diabetes epidemic in America.

“Diabetes is a silent killer,” says Grace Musoke, RPhic (registered pharmacist in charge), of Medlink Health Mart Pharmacy in Trenton, New Jersey. “We need to get the message across to our patients so we can prevent this disease.”

As part of the effort to help people know their diabetes status, Musoke and other Health Mart pharmacists offered free screenings and one-on-one sessions at local events nationwide.

During Musoke’s screening tour, she met a seemingly healthy woman who said she had no history of diabetes. The woman’s examination results, however, showed that she had high blood sugar levels. Later, she remembered suffering from gestational diabetes during a pregnancy 13 years before.

“I recommended that she go to her doctor to get lab work done,” Musoke said. “That’s really the key for us. The earlier we can detect the disease, the better able we are to manage it. That cuts down the costs for both the patient and the government.”

In addition to detecting and managing diabetes and other chronic health issues, pharmacists can also help people better understand their health care options.

One of these options is Medicare, the federal health plan available to qualifying individuals 65 or older, those under 65 with certain disabilities and those of any age with permanent kidney failure.

To help people understand the enrollment plan options, community pharmacists at CVS stepped in to explain the program.

“In areas where there is a higher population of underserved patients, it’s more about getting the information out and educating people that these options are available to them,” said CVS pharmacist Jason McCarthy. “Elderly African Americans are disproportionately affected by chronic diseases, but they are three times more likely not to enroll in the plans and the programs that can offset some of those costs.”

People who are already enrolled in Medicare are automatically eligible for Part D, which was created in 2006 to subsidize the cost of prescription medication. (Parts A and B cover medical costs such as doctor visits and hospitalizations.)

McCarthy indicates that pharmacists at CVS’s approximately 7,000 pharmacies across America are encouraging people on Medicare to review their plan through December 31 while enrollment is still open. If they don’t understand something, they should ask their pharmacist, he suggests. “Sometimes when people don’t ask, information isn’t offered,” McCarthy says.

Still wondering how a pharmacist can assist you in living healthy? Consider the following reasons:

1. Get immediate accessibility. You can walk right into a drugstore and speak with a pharmacist, but you must have an appointment or an emergency to see a physician. “Pharmacists are available to you almost 24/7,” McCarthy says.

2. Get personalized health care advice for minor illnesses. Need some medical help for a small health problem, but money’s tight? “In areas that are underserved, where people don’t have the financial means to see a doctor when they have minor illnesses, or they just have general questions, they can go see the pharmacist, ask questions and get credible advice about their health care,” McCarthy says. (CVS also offers an online calculator to simplify comparing drug plan costs and nationwide interactive seminars for seniors.)

3. Get savings on medications. Pharmacists are good at finding inexpensive meds you might have overlooked. “Some people are on multiple medications,” Musoke says. “We have them bring in everything they are taking and then we find lower-cost generics, which are equivalent to and less costly than brand drugs.”

4. Get free advice about possible lifestyle changes that can help your health. Before you pay to see a doctor about alternatives to popping a pill, ask your pharmacist for suggestions about diet and fitness solutions. “Pharmacists can also talk to people about nutrition and exercise,” Musoke says. “We can help them live full, active lives.”

Visit here for more information about Health Across America.

Get more details about Medicare Part D here, and access the CVS calculator here.