Genetic testing can tell us all kinds of interesting and important things. We’ve all seen commercials on TV where someone, thanks to DNA testing, discovered their ancestors weren’t from where they thought they were. We’ve heard of criminal cold cases being solved linking DNA at crime scenes to the perpetrator. Or maybe of someone finding a sibling or relative they didn’t know they had.
Stuff we may not have been able to find out years ago can often be uncovered with a simple swab of saliva from your cheek. DNA testing can give you a peek into your health, revealing diseases and risk factors that could impact your life. You can discover if you are a carrier of genetic disorders such as sickle cell anemia or cystic fibrosis. DNA testing could also help your doctor determine which medical treatments and doses would be most beneficial in treating your illnesses. If you become pregnant, these tests can detect some types of abnormalities in your babies’ genes.
Recently though, senior citizens have been targeted in genetic testing scams preying on seniors’ cancer fears and may cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars!
Fraudsters recruit victims anywhere senior citizens may congregate – health fairs, festivals, door knocking, Facebook ads, etc. – enticing them to submit a DNA swab sample for a “free” genetic cancer risk test. The recruiter then convinces the senior to provide their Medicare card (and often Social Security number) for processing. Victims are told the test will cost them nothing, Medicare will pay for everything, and they should receive results in four to six weeks, results seniors often do not see.
Medicare does pay labs for processing the test swab – as long as a doctor has signed a test order. According to a report by CBS News, once saliva samples and Medicare cards are secured, scammers shop them around to laboratories and doctors, luring them with a promise of tripling their revenues if kickbacks are given to the scammers.
The scammers, aided by these compromised laboratories and doctors, can really cash in. According to the Office of Inspector General at the Department of Health and Human Services, on average, Medicare pays $6,000 to $9,000 for these tests and have paid up to $25,000!
Complaints to the inspector general about DNA test scams have increased to nearly 50 a week, compared with one or two complaints a week the same time last year.
In addition to costing taxpayers millions of dollars, there are often other tragic consequences due to this scam. Some people may not qualify for legitimate DNA tests in the future. Their Medicare, genetic data and often Social Security information have been compromised. Also, if Medicare is billed for a test or screening that wasn’t medically necessary or wasn’t ordered by their doctor, the claim could be denied, possibly making the victim responsible for the entire cost of the test, which could be thousands of dollars.
The bottom line is for seniors to be vigilant:
• Be suspicious of anyone who offers you “free” genetic testing, then asks for your Medicare number.
• Never consent to any lab test without your doctor’s orders.
• Never give out your Medicare, Social Security health plan numbers or banking information to someone you do not know, no matter how seemingly legitimate they are.
• Always read your Medicare Summary Notice or Explanation of Benefits. Look for the words “gene analysis,” “molecular pathology,” or “laboratory.” They may indicate questionable genetic testing has occurred.
• If you suspect Medicare fraud, contact the Office of Inspector General Hotline at 800-447-8477.
Genetic testing, whether for ancestral research or assessing disease risk, is an extraordinary tool. Don’t help scammers use it to bilk you and our government.
Cheryl Parson is president of the Better Business bureau serving West Central Ohio. The BBB may be found on the Internet at www.lima.bbb.org.