Senior Voice -

By Alan M. Schlein
Senior Wire 

Medicare open enrollment is also open season for scams

Washington Watch

 


Medicare’s open enrollment, the time you can keep or switch your Medicare coverage, runs from October 15 until December 7. To Medicare scammers, open enrollment means open season on seniors.

The best advice to prevent yourself from being taken advantage of by these con artists and scammers is jarring but to the point: be rude and just hang up the phone. If a solicitation comes via email or on a website, don’t click on the link, as it may open you up to a computer virus.

You may also need to watch out for predatory insurance agents, who sometimes try to sell you unnecessary or inappropriate coverage or, worse, try to steal your Medicare numbers. A step below the con artist, there are some shady insurance agents who are simply trying to increase their commissions by persuading seniors to sign up for new plans that don’t help them get their medications or see the doctors they want.

So don’t believe it when agents tell you that you must change your plan every year. That’s another effort to get your information or your money. The law is clear. Under Medicare’s rules, insurance agents are prohibited from knocking on doors, making cold calls or sending unsolicited emails. Many manage to work around that by handing out business cards to get us to call them or getting your information at health fairs and other events by offering incentives like lunches, prizes etc.

Most insurance agents are not scam artists. The vast majority are solid folks. But since many make their money based on commissions, some play outside the rules.

Another open enrollment scam is to pressure or persuade seniors to buy supplemental insurance products that will supposedly save you thousands of dollars. Before you sign anything, compare these “medigap” policies on the federal government’s useful comparison tool at http://www.Medicare.gov.

One of the more popular scams of recent years is when seniors get unsolicited phone calls saying they must add a prescription drug plan or they will lose their Medicare benefits altogether. Flag that in the bull pucky category. Prescription drug plans under Medicare are voluntary and are supplemental to your Medicare benefits.

Sid Kirchheimer, author of Scam-Proof Your Life, who follows these kinds of scams for the AARP, says the most common ploy is for a scammer to pose as an employee of Medicare, or the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) or other government agencies, and claim that a new Medicare card is being issued. Then, in order to get your new card, you must verify or update sensitive information, including your Medicare or Social Security number.

Sid’s advice – don’t fall for it. Medicare will never call you and ask for your personal information. Never. Nor will Medicare email you or visit your home unannounced to collect data. For the record, the federal government has no plans to issue new Medicare cards and a lost or stolen card can be replaced at http://www.ssa.gov or by calling 1-800-772-1213.

Scammers also often try to get you to give them your bank account numbers, saying they need to process payments on an overdue medical bill. Don’t be fooled, even if they accurately cite a few digits from your checks. The right answer – just hang up.

Caller ID and email addresses can also be manipulated easily, so if it looks like the White House is calling or the email is coming from the federal government, get a number and ask to call back. Then get some help before even thinking about returning the call or email.

Kirschheimer also points out that free is never free. Free medical supplies are often efforts to get you to give up your personal information. They may want your credit card number for alleged shipping charges. Same thing goes for free medical checkups at storefronts or clinics that pop up suddenly – what they usually want is your personal information.

Useful tips to avoid scammers

1. If someone calls you saying you must switch your Medicare plan to keep your doctor, call your doctor directly and check it out.

2. Beware of unsolicited phone calls or people showing up at your residence claiming to be Medicare agents. That goes against Medicare’s own policy rules.

3. No one can move you out of your Medicare plan without your consent.

4. Don’t fall for free giveaways, prizes in exchange for signing Medicare forms.

5. Similarly, be suspicious of people offering free medical equipment or services, and requesting your Medicare number. If something is really free, they don’t need your Medicare number.

6. Call the Alaska Senior Medicare Patrol line at 269-3680 in Anchorage or 1-800-478-6065 toll-free statewide to learn other ways you can protect yourself and your family and friends. You can also call (877) 808-2468 or 1-800-MEDICARE.

Also contributing: Sacramento Bee, Kaiser; AARP, AgingCare.com.

 
 

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