Medicare scams are an unpleasant reality, and they typically reach a fever pitch during the US government health care plan’s annual open enrollment window. During this time, the 54 million-plus Medicare patients have the opportunity to change their Medicare Advantage (Part C) and Medicare Part D prescription drug plans. This means that shysters and con artists have the opportunity to fleece patients and the government for millions of dollars in annual Medicare fraud.
Scammers employ everything from television commercials to fake but official-looking mailed documents in order to capitalize on the confusion that surrounds Medicare’s vast number of plans and plan options.
Protecting yourself from scams and unscrupulous people involves two key steps. Number one, never give out your Medicare number. Treat it just as you would your bank account information or your Social Security number. Do not under any circumstances divulge it to anyone who is not employed by Medicare, your doctor’s office, or your hospital. Secondly, realize that Medicare will never solicit your business by offering you products through the mail or offering them to you by phone or email. If you receive a phone call, an email, or a brochure that is trying to sell you Medicare services, or that asks you to sign up for a service and provide your Medicare number, you can be sure that you’re dealing with a scammer. It’s also worth noting that licensed insurance agents are acting illegally if they attempt to sell or endorse a Medicare product over the phone or by visiting your home.
Five categories of scams
Most Medicare open enrollment scams fall under five broad categories. They are easy to spot and avoid thanks to the following tip-offs.
Mandatory plan switching
Some scammers will tell you that open enrollment isn’t simply an opportunity to change your Part C or Part D plans for the better, but instead is a requirement. This is false. While it is usually in your best interest to shop around for new plans at lower prices every year, you are not required to do so. You can always keep your current plan. As mentioned earlier, never give someone your Medicare number, particularly if they tell you that switching is a must.
Medicare card changes
Another common scam involves supposed Medicare card changes. Criminals may tell you that Medicare is updating its membership cards. In order to get one of the new (fake) cards, they will ask you to update your information via an online form, an email, or possibly a written form delivered in person. Medicare will never ask you for your personal information in this manner. You can always confirm whether or not Medicare is actually changing cards by calling the agency directly at 1-800-633-4227.
Scammers often employ high pressure sales pitches during Medicare open enrollment periods. They tell victims that early bird discounts are available for a limited time, when in fact they are either phishing for your personal information or trying to sign you up for a plan that actually costs more than your current plan. Always confirm that a proposed new plan is legitimate by using the plan finder at the official Medicare website or calling the phone number listed in the previous paragraph.
Raffle and prize scams
Some health fair vendors may try to obtain your personal information by advertising free gifts. Do not under any circumstances provide your Medicare number or other information to enter a prize drawing or contest.
You may receive calls or emails from criminals who have obtained portions of your medical information. They typically try to lure you into divulging your Medicare number, ostensibly so that they can provide you with better care than you are currently receiving. Again, always check with your doctor’s office or hospital before providing any of your personal information to someone you don’t know.