New Health Care Reform Scams Target the Young and Old

New Health Care Reform Scams Target the Young and Old

Unscrupulous people found a way to cash in when Medicare Part D began and have resurfaced to take advantage of the implementation of health care reform that begins in October. Neither young nor old are safe from these criminals as they once again try to steal identities or people’s money, or sell them something. Any change in health care sets off another round of attempts to take advantage of people with Medicare. But this time the target market will include younger people who will, for the first time, be guaranteed the right to health insurance through a health care exchange, called Covered California in our state.

People without insurance will for the first time be guaranteed the right to buy health insurance, and those who have it can shop and compare benefits and premiums. (People with Medicare are not affected by these changes.) Covered California will open in October 2013, and people can apply for benefits that will begin in January 2014. Some people whose incomes are too high to qualify for Medi-Cal today may be eligible for it next year when Medi-Cal expands; others will be eligible for a tax credit that will reduce their insurance premium. Covered California will train and certify enrollment counselors and navigators to help people understand their choices and how to apply, while agents and brokers will be able to help people enroll in the plan of their choice.

But all these changes and potential confusion create fertile ground for thieves looking to steal credit cards, Social Security numbers and other personal information. And the scams have already begun with impostors calling Medicare beneficiaries saying they need their Medicare and credit information because of changes resulting from the new health care reform law. The Federal Trade Commission has received complaints about such scams. In one case, beneficiaries reported receiving official sounding phone calls where the caller said he needed their personal and financial information to send them their new health care card.

Here is a list of things that are clear signs of a scam:

  • Demands for your Medicare number or your Social Security number
  • Unsolicited offers to help you sign up for the new health care benefits before October
  • Demands that the new law requires you to give them your personal or financial information
  • Demands that the new law requires you to buy new health insurance
  • Unsolicited calls, visits, or emails from a representative of the federal government about the new law
  • Unsolicited calls, visits, or emails from a “navigator” under the new health care reform law
  • Unsolicited calls, visits, or emails a from representative of the new “exchange”

Neither the federal government nor Covered California will contact anyone about the new law. No personal or financial information should ever be divulged to a stranger over the phone. One exception is when filing out an application for coverage through Covered California beginning in October. The application will ask for such info to give you a tax credit to reduce the monthly premium. State certified enrollment counselors and navigators from a variety of hospitals, county organizations, and community non-profits will be available to help. These individuals will have been through a background check, been fingerprinted, and trained to help people sift through all the available options for health benefits including Medi-Cal, and the Children’s Health Insurance program.

Remember: Stop, Verify, and Check before giving anyone your personal or financial information. If you are contacted by anyone misrepresenting themselves, report it immediately to prevent someone else from being victimized. Any information you can provide (phone number, person’s name, location of the caller, etc) is helpful. You can report such scams to the Federal Trade Commission online or by phone, toll-free, at 1-877-FTC-HELP. If the call involves Medicare, you can also report it to the California Senior Medicare Patrol (SMP) at 1-855-613-7080.

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.