'Tis the season for Medicare scams

Today is significant for Medicare beneficiaries: Oct. 15 marks the beginning of open enrollment for Medicare Part D and Medicare Advantage, a period that will run through Dec. 7. It's an opportunity for people to review their coverage and make changes. But we should be watchful in the weeks ahead, because con artists come out of the woodwork during open enrollment with an array of scams. Here are some of the most common:

Imposters offering new cards: Scammers claiming to be employees of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services or other government agencies approach beneficiaries in various ways. They call or show up at the door. They accost people in malls, parking lots, lobbies, medical exam rooms, dialysis centers or pharmacies. Scammers say the government is printing new Medicare cards, and to get them beneficiaries must disclose their birth date or Medicare identification numbers. Scammers may also ask for bank account information, saying they need it to pay a past-due bill for healthcare services.

All this is deliberate misrepresentation for unentitled gain. In a word, it's fraud.

"Despite imposters' claims, there are no plans to issue new Medicare cards," the AARP reported. Lost or stolen cards can be replaced at SSA.gov or by calling 800-772-1213, the article noted. And "Medicare has nothing to do with your banking information," the Better Business Bureau stressed.   

Since Medicare already has beneficiaries' identification numbers and birth dates, CMS doesn't call for this data. And caller ID isn't a protection against phone scams, since it can be made to display whatever name or number crooks choose, the AARP added.  

Cash and freebies: Criminals may tell Medicare patients the government owes them a refund since they've entered the Part D coverage gap, according to AgingCare. Scammers ask intended victims for their banking information purportedly to deposit the money in their accounts. Some beneficiaries receive offers for "free" medical supplies along with a request for credit card numbers to cover shipping charges. And fly-by-night store fronts and clinics offer "free" check-ups in a thinly-veiled attempt to harvest information.  

Sales scams and coverage loss threats: Door-to-door con artists claim to sell Medicare drug plans at bargain prices, AgingCare noted. Some scammers tell victims they'll lose Medicare A and B benefits if they don't buy prescription drug coverage immediately. Some scammers pressure people into buying supplemental coverage they don't need. Other con artists try to sell coverage to the already-insured, telling beneficiaries they must buy health plans through the marketplace or face a tax penalty. This ploy capitalizes on the overlap between open enrollment for plans sold on the exchanges and Medicare's open enrollment period.

Phony mailings that look legitimate: People may get official-looking but bogus brochures about new Medicare products available cheaply during open enrollment. "Act now," the brochures say."This offer won't last."   

But the definitive source of Medicare information comes to beneficiaries every year in the Medicare and You handbook, the Better Business Bureau stated.

The more we publicize these deceptive practices, the more the public will be prepared to dodge them and report perpetrators. So share this message. Let's make it harder for scammers to dupe people during Medicare open enrollment this year. - Jane (@HealthPayer)