Scams heat up during Medicare open enrollment


By Susan Tompor - Detroit Free Press



Medicare open enrollment is ongoing and ends Dec. 7. And you better believe the scammers know it.

Maybe it’s someone making a call, claiming to be from your insurance company and demanding information on the spot. Some scammers say you’ll need to buy a gift card or wire money soon so that you won’t lose your health care benefits. Others are trying to get your Social Security number or other information to use in identity fraud.“One gentleman signed up for a plan through a high pressure insurance agent and as a result he would have lost his Medigap coverage,” said said Jenny Jarvis, chief communications and strategy officer for the Area Agency on Aging 1-B in Southfield, Michigan.

Fortunately, after talking with counselors at the agency, he was able to switch his coverage back to a Medicare Part D plan and he retained his Medigap plan since it was still in the open enrollment window.

The open enrollment window is ripe for scam artists, Jarvis warns, as scammers often claim to be private companies that offer Medicare to eligible seniors. This month, many Medicare recipients are reviewing whether they want to change their Medicare Advantage and Part D prescription drug plans.

“Usually, if you keep your plan, you do nothing,” Jarvis said.

She noted that consumers face two options when you sign up for Medicare.

“One option is keeping traditional Medicare, which covers Part A and Part B,” she said..

“Then you can purchase a stand alone Medicare Part D plan for prescription coverage and you can also choose to purchase a Medigap plan which helps cover co-pays and deductibles associated with Medicare Part A and Part B.”

“The second option is to choose a Medicare Advantage Plan which is coverage through a private insurance company that provides your Part A, Part B and prescription coverage. If you have a Medicare Advantage Plan, you cannot also have a Medigap plan.”

“For many seniors just understanding the complexity of the choices and how they can impact current coverage can be very confusing,” she said.

The very last thing you should do, of course, is hand over your Medicare card information — or credit card number — over the phone to someone who is pressuring you to act now. Don’t respond to a cold call out of the blue relating to Medicare, as those aren’t even allowed.

Jarvis suggests: “When in doubt, hang up.”

Signs of a scam include someone who calls and claims to be able to “help you” sign up for coverage or demands to “confirm billing information” so that you don’t lose coverage.

Remember, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Social Security Administration will not call you and claim that you must update your information.

Other warnings about scams include:

Watch out for the old back brace scam

Con artists are back in action and calling seniors covered by Medicare with all sorts of deals on “free or low cost” back braces, knee braces and other medical equipment.

No one from Medicare, of course, is making such calls. It’s only a scam that’s designed to get your Medicare information, according to a recent alert by the Federal Trade Commission.

“If you give them your information, they’ll use it to fraudulently bill Medicare for braces and other medical equipment,” the FTC warns.

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By Susan Tompor

Detroit Free Press

Susan Tompor is the personal finance columnist for the Detroit Free Press. She can be reached at stompor@freepress.com.

Susan Tompor is the personal finance columnist for the Detroit Free Press. She can be reached at stompor@freepress.com.

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