It’s only been six years since the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, effectively changed the landscape of modern American health care, including the rules and regulations surrounding Medicare. Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for scammers to develop new ways of deceiving Medicare enrollees. Medicare Advantage, Medigap and other supplementary plans are especially vulnerable to attack.
In 2016, Medicare open enrollment started in mid-October and will run through December 7. It’s during this period that the likelihood of falling prey to a Medicare enrollment scam becomes greater for senior citizens. If you’re looking over your options for enrollment – or know someone who is – then be aware of Medicare enrollment scams and how to combat them.
How Medicare Enrollment Scams Work
Identity thieves are expected to get busy during the 2016 open enrollment period, but they’re not necessarily bent on taking cash directly from their victims. This time around, they will be looking to extract social security numbers from seniors seeking to enroll in Medicare or its supplemental plans, like Medicare Advantage.
Con artists are always looking to gain an edge, a storyline or some sliver of truth to support their schemes. There are two specific situations bolstering the con game this year. The first one is media confusion. Senior citizens have been subject to a barrage of television and radio advertisements not only about Medicare enrollment but also about the election. Information overload can turn people off to the dangers of giving out personal details, like social security numbers. The other factor is that a 2015 law to eliminate the use of social security numbers on Medicare cards was set to start implementation in 2016.
The AARP suspects that scammers will likely capitalize on the confusion by getting hold of telemarketing lists and setting up boiler rooms to start calling potential Medicare enrollees. In the past, identity thieves have claimed to be representatives from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the organization responsible for administering Medicare. Under the guise of officials collecting information, scammers have tricked seniors into giving up their Medicare numbers, which happen to be the same as their social security numbers. In 2016, thieves may use the new law on eliminating social security numbers from Medicare cards to ask senior citizens for this information.
How to Avoid Medicare Scams
A few media campaigns are underway to alert seniors about the potential social security number scam. Newspapers, radio stations and television news shows are urging senior citizens to never furnish their Social Security numbers to anyone who calls or visits them.
Neither Medicare nor the Social Security Administration make phone calls or conduct door-to-door visits. Official communication always comes via mail. The best way for senior citizens to avoid the current wave of Medicare scams is to ignore the scammers by hanging up on suspicious phone calls and disregarding door-to-door visits.
The new Medicare cards will not be issued in 2016. In fact, they may not be ready until the next election. It’s important to note that Medicare does not need to ask for Social Security numbers because it already has them.
Other scams related to Medicare and the open period of enrollment include bogus Medigap plans sold by con artists who claim that supplemental coverage is mandatory. It’s not. Supplemental plans and prescription drug benefits are completely voluntary, and they are not marketed via calling campaigns or in-home visits. You can sign up for supplemental coverage yourself during your initial enrollment period. For most Medicare enrollees, initial enrollment starts three months before your 65th birthday.
In the end, seniors who believe that they’re are being targeted by con artists should call 1-800-MEDICARE to report the activity.