Your new Medicare ID card will help you avoid fraud. Here are other ways to stay clear of scams
Medicare has many positives, but one unfortunate truth is that recipients are often the targets of scams. Each year, Medicare fraud costs taxpayers $60 billion, according to the Senior Medicare Patrol (SMP), a federally-funded watchdog service of the Department of Health and Human Services. The costs aren’t purely financial—incorrect medical information can wind up in the records of recipients whose ID numbers have been compromised, meaning the care they receive down the road is impacted. In recent years, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force has brought charges against nearly 3,000 scammers, but Medicare recipients remain prime targets. Here’s how to protect yourself.
1. Use your new Medicare ID card. In April 2018, Medicare took a big step in countering fraud when it started sending redesigned Medicare ID cards to new and current enrollees. Gone is your Social Security number as your ID number. Instead, you’re now given a unique combination of numbers and uppercase letters. The full roll-out was completed in April 2019.
Note: If you have a Medicare Advantage Plan (MAP), you’ll receive a new Medicare card, but the MAP ID card will continue to be your main identification.
2. Treat your ID card like a credit card. Even though the new cards are stripped of all personal information, the experts at SMP and Medicare caution that you still need to carefully guard your number: The only people who need to see your new Medicare card are your doctors and specialists, your chosen pharmacists, your insurers, and other people you have designated—and trust—to work with Medicare on your behalf.
3. Alert Medicare or SMP of suspicious activity. If you receive a call, email, or in-person request (such as from a door-to-door salesperson) to share or confirm your Medicare ID number or other personal information, say NO. Then, report the experience to Medicare by calling 800-633-4227. It’s also a good idea to contact your local SMP office; find yours at smpresource.org.
4. Keep your own records. Even though your health care providers maintain copious records on your behalf, it’s always a good idea to keep your own notes. Using a calendar or a separate notebook, jot down the dates of your doctor appointments, tests, and any medical procedures you have. If your providers give you appointment summaries after each visit, review them right away and ask about any discrepancies. (For example, does the summary state a vaccine that you didn’t actually receive that day?) Keep similar records for any hospital stays.
5. Review your Medicare statements. When your summary statement arrives, check it against your own records (see above). You want to be sure that you and Medicare are only being charged for the medical services and items (including prescriptions or equipment such as diabetes supplies) that you received.
1. Pay someone to send you a new Medicare card. Scammers call Medicare recipients and tell them that they need a new card, then ask for personal information to steal their identity. Medicare cards do not expire, and Medicare will never call you to say that you need a new card. (If you lose your card or need to update your address, visit your online My Social Security account or call 800-772-1213.) The same goes for anyone who offers to help guide you through any so-called Medicare changes or update your plan.
2. Share your number over the phone or via email. Medicare has all the information on you that it needs, so if someone calls you or sends you an email asking you to share or confirm your personal Medicare information, hang up or hit delete.
3. Let a friend or family member “borrow” your Medicare number. It is illegal for you to share your Medicare number with others. If a loved one needs medical care, there are government services in place to help them.
4. Let your guard down. We’d all love free medical care or a surprise windfall, but if you see an advertisement, or get a call or email offering you a gift or free care with the only catch being that you need to share your Medicare ID number, walk away. Such Medicare freebies just do not exist. Other common Medicare scams: door-to-door salespeople offering low-cost medical supplies; pharmacies that don’t give you the right medication or the full prescription (it’s best to count and check the meds right there at the counter); providers saying they know how to bill Medicare for services that aren’t usually covered, or who recommend services and treatments that aren’t necessary.
For a full list of common Medicare fraud schemes, visit the “Medicare Fraud” tab on SMP’s website, smpresource.org, or check out Medicare.gov/fraud.