The estimated amount lost to Medicare fraud and improper payments is $60 billion per year, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. This may be a low estimate; other studies have indicated that losses could be 20-30 percent of the total Medicare annual budget. Medicare fraud may be defined in several ways: overcharging for medical care or charges for services never delivered, filing duplicate claims, medical identity theft, providing unneeded services or equipment, and filling prescriptions illegally to sell.
This should concern everyone because it is our tax dollars going to waste, and it also results in higher Medicare copayments and deductibles. There also would be potential for cuts to health care services and benefits. Due to the immense financial losses from Medicare fraud over the years, the federal government is finally taking some steps to address the problem.
To protect your identity, starting in April, Medicare will mail new Medicare cards without Social Security numbers printed on them. This initiative will specifically help dissuade scammers from using your number to open fraudulent financial accounts, file bogus tax returns or steal your identity or money.
Each new card will have a randomly selected Medicare beneficiary identifier that will include both capital letters and numbers. There’s nothing you need to do! Your benefits will not change! You’ll receive your new card at no cost at the address you have on file with Social Security. If you need to update your mailing address, log in to your Social Security account or contact the Social Security Administration at (800) 772-1213. For more information about the new Medicare card, visit go.medicare.gov/newcard.
Mailing takes time. Cards will be randomly shipped over the next 12 months, so your card may arrive at a different time than your friend’s or neighbor’s. Your new card is paper, which is easier for many providers to use and copy.
Once you get your new Medicare card, destroy your old Medicare red, white and blue card; do not just throw it in the trash. Start using your new card right away, but still protect it like you normally would protect your personal information, such as your Social Security number. If you use a computer, be aware that your new Medicare information could be easily intercepted from emails or digital files.
Doctors, other health care providers and facilities know it is coming and will ask for your new Medicare card only when you need care. Only give your new Medicare identifier to your doctors, pharmacists, other health care providers, your insurers or people you trust to work with Medicare on your behalf. Medicare will never call you uninvited and ask you to give personal or private information to get your new Medicare number and card. Be aware that with these new Medicare cards, scammers will be finding better ways to get your information. Remember that you do not need to verify your identity before the new card is issued or you do not need to pay for your replacement card or for any updated coverage. Don’t believe it if a caller says you are entitled to a refund in premiums or drug costs and asks for your bank account for direct deposit.
You can play a part in the fight against Medicare fraud by being on guard. Look carefully at your monthly Medicare Explanation of Benefits statements to verify that the charges listed on the statement match the dates and provider for the service you actually used. Call the Medicare hotline at (800) 633-4227 if you have questions about your statement. If you have legitimate concerns or are aware of any fraudulent activity by a provider, report it to the Office of the Inspector General at (800) 447-8477. All calls are handled confidentially. If there is a suspicious charge on your Medicare Part D prescription plan, you would need to call (877) 772-3379. As an alternative, you can write a complaint letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General, Attention: OIG Hotline Operations, P.O. Box 23489, Washington, D.C. 20026.
As always, the staff here at the Cayuga County Office for the Aging is available to answer your questions or assist with any problems with Medicare. Our number is (315) 253-1226. Since our staff is quite busy and can’t always accommodate walk-ins, it is best to call for an appointment, if needed.