Be on the lookout for Medicare Open Enrollment scammers

Mechele Agbayani Mills

From now through Dec. 7, many Medicare recipients will make decisions on changes in their Medicare Advantage and Part D prescription drug plans. Affecting more than 3.5 million Texas Medicare beneficiaries, the Annual Open Enrollment enables recipients to make changes to various aspects of their coverage. They can:

-- Switch from Original Medicare to Medicare Advantage, or vice-versa.

-- Switch from one Medicare Advantage plan to another, or from one Medicare Part D (prescription drug) plan to another.

-- Enroll in a Medicare Part D plan if they did not do so when first eligible, although a late enrollment penalty may apply.

Because a lot of personal information will be disclosed during this type of change, BBB reminds consumers to be watchful for scammers who will try to take advantage of unsuspecting Medicare recipients.

All of the advertising and solicitations during Medicare Open Enrollment can confuse even the smartest person. It’s important to make sure you are working with trustworthy companies when considering enrollment options.

BBB offers three ways to avoid Medicare fraud, as well as common Medicare scams:

Guard your Medicare number. Your number is unique to you, just like your Social Security number. It should not be shared under any circumstances, unless you know exactly where it is going and who is using it. Protect your number the same way you would protect your bank and credit card information. If someone tries to convince you to give up your Medicare number, just hang up the phone.

Verify licensing. The Medicare-eligible population grows every year, making sales of Medicare plans big business. Independent agents and brokers selling plans must be licensed in Ohio and the plan must tell the state which agents are selling plans on the company’s behalf. Before any decisions are made, verify the agent has proper credentials with a known company. Go to bbb.org for information about a business, or contact the Texas Department of Insurance at tdi.texas.gov.

Dodge phony pitches. Phone calls, door-to-door offers, phishing emails, mail offers, health fairs, dinners, contests, or prizes have all been used to lure people who may be pressed for time or confused by their Medicare options.

Avoid offers using these tactics:

-- High-pressure sales or offers for “early bird discounts” during open enrollment for lower monthly premiums.

-- An offer for a “special plan made just for you.”

-- Salespeople who ask for personal information upfront before you are enrolled.

-- A claim that there is a problem with your plan or there is a new card for your plan and updated information is needed.

-- An offer that asks for payment over the phone.

Medicare is a federal government program managed by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which means there are strict rules on forbidden sales practices. Medicare is not part of healthcare.gov.

For additional resources contact the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services at 800-252-9240.

For more information on how to be a savvy consumer, go to bbb.org. To report fraudulent activity or unscrupulous business practices, call the BBB Hotline, 903-581-8373, or use BBB Scam Tracker.

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