Seniors Pay Skyrocketing Price for “Free” Ice Cream

Seniors Pay Skyrocketing Price for “Free” Ice Cream

Have you or groups of elders you know been offered a free ice cream social AND a “free” Medicare-covered cheek swab genetic test? If so, sounds like a pretty good (and delicious) offer, right? Well, no. It’s a scam that is happening around the country. That’s why we created a short fraud alert translated into 5 languages to notify communities state and nationwide. These scammers are coming into senior centers and senior residence complexes to give presentations or offer ice cream socials while also conducting these “cheek swabs” for genetic testing, and then charging Medicare over $1,100 for unneeded tests. These tests can help alert people about potentially negative interactions to medications they are taking, as genetically some people don’t respond well to certain drug therapies. Yet, Medicare does NOT cover this test as part of some generic group screening. Medicare only covers such a test if there are already signs, symptoms, complaints, or personal history of disease or injury warranting a test, and a your physician orders it.

This scenario happened to a local senior residence, The Plaza, in San Bernardino. A young woman first approached Joe George, the Residence Service Coordinator, offering an ice cream social free of charge to residents along with a “Medicare-covered” genetics test. Joe agreed and in December the ice cream party, cheek swabbing and Medicare-number-collecting all happened. Joe was told that the test results would be mailed in 3 weeks. When they didn’t come, and his inquires were repeatedly met with excuses for stalled results, Joe knew something was wrong. Then he received our recent “Beware of Genetic Testing for Beneficiaries in Group Settings” fraud alert and called us right away. He reported that this scam is exactly what happened to the 6 of 160 residents who attended the event, and the 20 seniors who attended a similar event at the senior center next door. Our staff and volunteers gathered info from Joe for reporting, and Joe has since distributed our fraud alerts to all 160 residents, to the senior center next door and published it in his local newsletter. Thank you, Joe, for helping us spread the word!

If you encounter people offering such group screenings, saying Medicare covers this testing free of charge and that all they need is your Medicare number, stop. This is a red flag. Do not give them your or anyone’s Medicare number. Call the Health Insurance Counseling and Advocacy Program (HICAP) at 1-800-434-0222, or the Senior Medicare Patrol at 1-855-613-7080 and help us put a stop to this scam. Also spread the word by sharing this article and our genetic testing fraud alert, which is available in English, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and Russian. Thank you!

Our blogger Karen J. Fletcher is CHA's publications consultant. She provides technical expertise, writing and research on Medicare, health disparities and other health care issues. With a Masters in Public Health from UC Berkeley, she serves in health advocacy as a trainer and consultant. See her current articles.

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