Coming changes to Medicare will benefit some recipients but will make coverage more expensive for people with higher incomes. Due partially to changes in the health care laws, everything from benefits and enrollment rules to the number of changes available will be affected beginning Jan.1
These changes will create an opportunity for Medicare scam artists to take advantage of seniors. Every year Medicare scams cost taxpayers billions of dollars. Some of the scams are very complex but some are as simple as offering patients medical supplies and equipment they do not need or do not qualify for. The swindlers then bill for other supplies and services the patients never receive and pocket the reimbursements.
There are a number of steps you can take to protect yourself or your loved ones from Medicare fraud.
1. Protect your Medicare card as carefully as you would a credit card or social security card. Never give your number over the phone to a stranger, like someone who is claiming to be conducting a health care survey.
2. Beware of free services. Someone offering you a medical service for free does not need your insurance information. Don’t give out your Medicare number. This may be a scam to collect Medicare numbers for fraudulent use.
3. Examine your statements. My mother noted that my father had been charged twice for a 5 minute ambulance trip that cost $500. She contacted Medicare when she found it on my Dad’s statement. You receive statements quarterly. Look for doctor visits that never happened, unfamiliar medical provider names and supplies, services and equipment you never received.
4. Avoid enrollment hazards. On Nov. 15 Medicare recipients could sign up to change plans. This is the time when scam artists peddle phony Medicare and Medicare Part D prescription drug plans. Check any plan you are considering on the plan finder at www.medicare.gov. If you can’t find it, it may not be legitimate.
5. Check your credit report. Review your credit reports periodically for unpaid medical bills that may be a result of fraud.
6. Make a report. If you think you have encountered fraud and you have double checked for errors with your medical provider, you can report the incident directly to the Inspector General at 1-800-447-8477 or via email to HHSTips@hhs.gov
In addition, each state offers a Senior Medicare Patrol Office as part of its State Health Insurance Counseling and Assistance Program. Workers at these offices will help you determine if you have been a victim of fraud.