Check your Medicare Summary Notice carefully this month. It may list fees for COVID-19 tests or other medical supplies you didn’t order or were sent unsolicited by fraudulent companies. According to the Los Angeles Times, fraudulent claims relating to COVID-19 has cost Medicare over $203 million in 2023. This amount includes claims for test kits that were never ordered by the recipients now that the government is no longer providing these kits free of charge to households.
Scammers buy stolen Medicare numbers online or extract them from Medicare patients. They use the ID numbers to bill Medicare for over-the-counter test kits collecting a tidy profit. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General has received numerous complaints about this scam, said Scott Lampert, assistant inspector general for investigations at the Department of Human Services.
“We’re doing what we can to investigate them thoroughly and hold the criminals that are pursuing these schemes accountable,” said Lambert. Certain states with higher populations of older adults, such as Florida, Arizona and New York, have become prime targets for criminals to exploit.
In January 2022, the Biden administration offered all households a limited number of free rapid COVID-19 tests. A few months later, in April 2022, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services decided to pay for eight tests a month for those with Medicare Part B coverage. Both offers ended on May 11, 2023, but Medicare still covers the cost of coronavirus lab tests ordered by a healthcare provider.
That’s when the upsurge of fraudulent tests peaked. According to PR Newswire, the New York StateWide Senior Action Council, an organization advocating for the rights of seniors in New York State, declared “COVID-19 Test Kit Scams” as its Medicare Fraud of the month in June. Experts cautioned that anyone receiving these unauthorized kits should not use the test kits.
If you find phony or suspicious charges on your Medicare Summary Notice, take action, says AARP. You have several ways to report Medicare fraud, which along with errors and abuse costs the system billions of dollars each year.
• Medicare’s help line. You can call Medicare directly at 1-800-633-4227 to ask questions or report fraudulent activity. You may also need to work with Medicare to clear up your record if someone has been making phony charges in your name, which could affect your coverage. One Medicare operator said she receives hundreds of calls daily about fraudulent claims. Wait times can be long, so pack your patience.
• Senior Medicare Patrol. The Senior Medicare Patrol or SMP, is available in every state, as well as the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Local volunteers and staff help educate, detect, and report Medicare fraud. Each state has a hotline for you to report suspected fraud and ask questions about possible scams. You can find contact information for your state by visiting the SMP resource website, or by calling 877-808-2468.
• U.S. Department of Health and Human Services fraud hotline. You can file an online report with the HHS Office of Inspector General or call 800-447-8477. You are not required to identify yourself, says AARP, when reporting a suspected fraud although investigators may want to contact you for further information.
To protect yourself from Medicare fraud:
• Never share or openly display your Medicare number.
• Never give out your Medicare number if someone calls or emails you offering medical equipment and supplies in return for providing your Medicare number.
• Never respond to calls or emails offering to upgrade your card or asking for your Medicare number for other unexpected reasons.
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