This blog post was written by John Harrington, a volunteer attorney with the Elder Abuse Prevention Project and our resident ScamBuster! Medicare open enrollment begins on October 15th, so this is particularly important and timely information
It seemed like a good idea: Congress passed legislation back in 2015 that required the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to stop using Social Security numbers on seniors’ Medicare cards and start using a new, randomly-generated 11-digit number to identify each Medicare participant. The concept was to deter fraud by getting valuable Social Security numbers off Medicare cards and providing new cards and numbers to every single Medicare participant. All 58 million of them.
Unfortunately, ever-creative and flexible scammers inevitably found ways to exploit the switchover to new cards. Scammers have an arsenal of weapons at their disposal but they’re most likely to employ one or more of the following:
- Make telephone calls masquerading as a government official to “inform” seniors of the card switchover and “explain” that they just need to “update” their information in order for the senior to get the new Medicare card. Reality: CMS will mail new Medicare cards to all Medicare participants automatically—participants need not do anything or pay anything in order to receive their new card
- Make telephone calls pretending to be staff at your doctor’s office and asking for the new Medicare number “just to update our records” or “ensure correct billing.”
- Set up desks at local health fairs and offer “freebies” like nutritional supplements in exchange for seniors’ new Medicare numbers and other personal information.
To make things even more complex, the annual open enrollment season (the period during which you can switch your Medicare Advantage or Part D prescription plans) is coming up from October 15th through December 7th this year. Scammers love to call seniors and tell them that open enrollment means they must switch plans or purchase a particular plan. The reality is that there is no requirement to purchase such a plan or to switch plans if you already have one. Note though that it is a good idea to review your plan annually and compare its costs for your prescription medications to those of other plans.
What’s the harm in providing your Medicare number or other personal information? Simple: scammers can exploit your Medicare number to fraudulently bill Medicare for expensive healthcare equipment they never provided (think power wheelchairs or complex braces and splints). Then if you someday need similar equipment, CMS may refuse to supply it on the grounds that you’ve already received it (!).
How to protect yourself against the scammers? Remember a few fundamental rules:
Safeguard your Medicare number! Treat your Medicare card and number (both your current and the forthcoming new one) like you would a credit card. Only give them directly to your healthcare providers!
Remember that CMS will contact you only through written, mailed letters. CMS won’t call you, much less ask for your Medicare number or other personal information over the phone!
Know that anyone requesting your Medicare number over the telephone is probably a scammer. So just hang up!
Remember that there’s no obligation to purchase a Medicare Advantage or Part D plan or to switch plans if you already have one. It’s a good idea to review your plan annually and compare its costs for your prescriptions to those of other plans.
 New Medicare Cards Offer Greater Protection to More than 57.7 Million Americans, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, at https://www.cms.gov/Newsroom/MediaReleaseDatabase/Press-releases/2017-Press-releases-items/2017-05-30.html
How to Protect Yourself Against Common Medicare Scams, U.S. News & World Report, at https://health.usnews.com/health-news/medicare/articles/2015/10/15/how-to-protect-yourself-against-common-medicare-scams
 New Medicare Scams Spread Across U.S., AARP, at http://www.aarp.org/health/medicare-insurance/info-2015/medicare-scams-spread.html