October 14, 2005                                                         Contact:Lucas Hamilton

DON'T BE FOOLED BY MEDICARE-RELATED SCAMS Morrison offers tips to spot fraud in Medicare prescription drug plan promotions


      Helena, Mont., Oct. 14, 2005 - Montana State Auditor John Morrison today issued a warning to Montana's seniors to beware of scams related to Medicare's new prescription drug plans rolling out this fall.
      "Folks have probably heard that beginning in 2006, Medicare will offer coverage for prescriptions drugs," said Morrison. "Con artists have heard the news too and they're trying to cash in by offering phony Medicare prescription drug plans. Their real objective is to steal your money, your personal information or both."
      Seniors will be receiving a lot of information about Medicare's new prescription drug coverage this fall and many companies will be trying to enroll people in their drug coverage plan. "Signing up for a plan will help many people lower their prescription drug costs, so it's worth finding out more, Morrison added. "But while folks are checking out all the promotions, they need to remember that there are some scams out there."
      The Montana State Auditor's Office is working with Medicare to educate the public about the new Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit. That effort includes community-based personalized counseling and seminars, materials on www.medicare.gov, assistance through 1-800-MEDICARE, and state-specific information in the Medicare & You handbook mailed in mid-October. People can also call the State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) counselor at 1-800-551-3191 or the Montana State Auditor's Office at 1-800-332-6148.
      
      Morrison offers these tips to spot fraud in Medicare prescription drug plan promotions:

  • If someone says you must join or you'll lose your other Medicare benefits, it's a scam. The Medicare prescription drug benefit is voluntary. It supplements your other Medicare benefits.
  • If someone asks for payment before November 15, 2005, it's a scam. The plans are allowed to begin advertising on October 1, 2005, but they're not allowed to begin enrolling people and asking for payments until November 15, 2005, which is the beginning of the six-month open enrollment period.
  • If someone claims to be calling from the Social Security Administration (SSA) and asks for your bank account, credit card, or life insurance policy numbers, it's a scam. SSA will never ask for that information, and the only time someone calling from the SSA will ask for your Social Security number is if you applied for low-income assistance and the number you put on your application wasn't correct.
  • Guard your personal information from identity thieves posing as sales people. Legitimate plans may ask for your Social Security number, but only when you are actually enrolling. And they may only ask for your credit card or bank account information if you are arranging to make automatic payments for your drug coverage from that account.
  • Know the law on how Medicare prescription drug plans can be marketed. It's illegal for companies or organizations marketing Medicare drug plans to come to your door uninvited or to send you unsolicited emails. Companies and organizations can call to promote their drug plans, but it's illegal for them to sign people up during those calls.
  • Don't be fooled by sales materials that look like they're from the government. Con artists often try to confuse consumers with official-looking sales materials that look like they're from a government agency. Since it is private companies who are offering the plans, be skeptical about promotional materials claiming to come from the government.
  • Don't confuse other types of drug coverage with approved Medicare prescription drug plans. Only plans approved by Medicare can be marketed as Medicare prescription drug plans. Approved plans will have a seal on their materials with "Medicare Rx" in large letters and "Prescription Drug Coverage" in smaller letters under that. Check with Medicare to make sure that the plan you're considering is approved.
  • Check the list of Medicare-approved prescription drug plans. The list of approved plans and other information about the program are available by calling Medicare toll-free at, 1-800-MEDICARE.
  • Report suspected Medicare drug plan scams. Call the Office of Inspector General at the Department of Health and Human Services at 1-800-447-8477 to report a suspected scam. You can also report Medicare-related fraud by sending an email to HHSTips@oig.hhs.gov or writing to Inspector General, HHS, Attention: Hotline, 330 Independence Avenue SW, Washington, DC 20201.