published Friday, October 12th, 2012

Biz Bulletin: Watch out for Medicare open enrollment scams

By Jim Winsett
  • photo
    BBB Chief Exective Jim Winsett
    Photo by Leigh Shelle Hunt

Q. I am planning to review my current Medicare plan, but there is so much information to go through, not to mention lots of scams. Does BBB have any tips on reviewing and updating the information without having to deal with fraudsters?

A. It is that time of year again; open enrollment for Medicare Part D and Medicare Advantage plans takes place Oct. 15 to Dec. 7. This is your opportunity to review your current health insurance and make adjustments based on your needs and your health-care costs. It also is an opportunity for scam artists and unscrupulous people to take advantage of you, so here are some pointers about what you should and should not do.

You should always shop for a drug plan each year. Drug plan coverage changes each year as well as the cost of the premiums. You need to make sure you are getting the best price for your medication by going to www.Medicare.gov and

do a plan comparison. Get a family member to help if you do not use the Internet or call the Area Agency on Aging at 423-424-4256 in Southeast Tennessee or at 706-295-6485 for Northwest Georgia, and speak to a qualified benefits counselor.

What you should never do is give personal information over the phone or in person to a stranger because they are telling you Medicare is changing. Some crooks call or e-mail seniors claiming to be Medicare Part D prescription plan providers. Under the guise of enrolling the victim in a plan, they get personal information that can be used to commit identity fraud.

The crooks are often very aggressive, calling many times and at all hours of the day to wear down their potential victims. In an effort to sound legitimate, they may cite information about the person that is readily available in public databases.

All the information you need to know from Medicare comes to you in your "Medicare and You" handbook every October. There are no "new" Medicare cards, there are no "new" drug cards, so hang up if you get one of these calls. Medicare, Medicaid and the Social Security Administration will not call you to update information or issue a new card.

You also should evaluate your overall health care costs and decide which is best for you, traditional Medicare or enrolling in a Medicare Advantage plan. When it comes to Medicare, including Part D and Advantage plans, Medicare has strict marketing guidelines that insurance agents and plans must follow. Agents and/or brokers:

• Cannot say they are from Medicare or imply Medicare endorses them.

• Cannot solicit by going door to door.

• Cannot send unwanted emails or voicemails, or call you unless you have asked to be called.

• Cannot approach you in a parking lot, lobby, mall or other common area.

• Cannot approach you in an exam room, dialysis center or pharmacy counter.

• Cannot provide meals at sales presentations.

• Cannot conduct marketing or sales activities at an educational event.

• Cannot market non-health-related products such as life insurance during educational sessions.

• Cannot offer you a gift worth more than $15.

• Cannot charge you a fee to enroll or ask you to pay online or over the phone. They must send you a bill.

You should be aware of changes to Medicare in the Affordable Care Act. Benefits rolled out in 2012 will continue including a 50 percent discount on brand-name drugs for seniors who fall into the coverage gap.

Remember to watch out for scam artists. Change brings confusion and scam artists are standing by to capitalize on that confusion.

Get answers to your questions each Friday from Jim Winsett, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau Inc., which serves Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia. Submit questions to his attention by writing to Business Editor Dave Flessner, Chattanooga Times Free Press, P.O. Box 1447, Chattanooga, TN, 37401-1447, or by emailing him at dflessner@ timesfreepress.com.

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