“Finding the best private Medicare drug or medical insurance plan among dozens of choices is tough enough without throwing misleading sales tactics into the mix,” Susan Jaffe writes for Kaiser Health News. “Yet federal officials say complaints are rising from seniors tricked into buying policies — without their consent or lured by questionable information — that may not cover their drugs or include their doctors. In response, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has threatened to penalize private insurance companies selling Medicare Advantage and drug plans if they or agents working on their behalf mislead consumers. The agency has also revised rules making it easier for beneficiaries to escape plans they didn’t sign up for or enrolled in only to discover promised benefits didn’t exist or they couldn’t see their providers. The problems are especially prevalent during Medicare’s open-enrollment period, which began Oct. 15 and runs through Dec. 7. A common trap begins with a phone call like the one Linda Heimer, an Iowa resident, received in October. She won’t answer the phone unless her caller ID displays a number she recognizes, but this call showed the number of the hospital where her doctor works. The person on the phone said she needed Heimer’s Medicare number to make sure it was correct for the new card she would receive. When Heimer hesitated, the woman said, ‘We’re not asking for a Social Security number or bank numbers or anything like that. This is OK.’ ‘I can’t believe this, but I gave her my card number,’ said Heimer. Then the caller asked questions about her medical history and offered to send her a saliva test ‘absolutely free.’ That’s when Heimer became suspicious and hung up. She contacted the 1-800-MEDICARE helpline to get a new Medicare number and called the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline and the Federal Trade Commission. But later that morning the phone rang again and this time the caller ID displayed a number matching the toll-free Medicare helpline. When she answered, she recognized the voice of the same woman. ‘You’re not from Medicare,’ Heimer told her. ‘Yes, yes, yes, we are,’ the woman insisted. Heimer hung up again. It’s been only two weeks since Heimer disclosed her Medicare number to a stranger and, so far, nothing’s gone wrong. But armed with that number, scammers could bill Medicare for services and medical supplies that beneficiaries never receive, and the scammers could sign seniors up for a Medicare Advantage or drug plan without their knowledge.” Susan Jaffe, “Medicare’s Open Enrollment Is Open Season for Scammers,” Kaiser Health News.
Jeanne Pinder is the founder and CEO of ClearHealthCosts. She worked at The New York Times for almost 25 years as a reporter, editor and human resources executive, then volunteered for a buyout and founded... More by Jeanne Pinder