With open enrollment for Medicare drug, supplement and Medicare Advantage plans continuing until Dec. 7, scammers see an opportunity to take advantage of seniors who may not understand the enrollment process, Better Business Bureau (BBB) warns.
The Missouri Department of Insurance recently warned seniors to be alert to scams that could come in the form of a phone call, a door-to-door salesperson or possibly online. Medicare doesn't call consumers to enroll them in plans, so seniors should hang up on any caller who claims that to be from Medicare and wants to verify personal information.
"The constant barrage of advertisements for Medicare plans makes this a top-of-mind issue for scammers as well as seniors," said Michelle L. Corey, BBB President & CEO. "Unfortunately, scammers will latch on to anything that's promoted in the media. They see this as an opportunity to take advantage of vulnerable people who may be confused about the enrollment process."
Missouri and Illinois both offer seniors help with enrolling in Medicare plans during open enrollment or when they become eligible at age 65. Missouri seniors can get help through the CLAIM program (missouriclaim.org), which offers counseling by calling 800-390-3330. CLAIM has open enrollment events scheduled around the state through Dec. 5 (missouriclaim.org/events).
Illinois seniors can get help from the Illinois Department on Aging's Senior Health Insurance Program (SHIP). Seniors may contact the program by calling (800) 252-8966 or by sending email to AGING.SHIP@illinois.gov.
BBB and the Missouri Insurance Department offer the following tips for seniors to help them avoid fraud:
• Verify that a salesperson is a licensed insurance agent. Missouri residents may call the state's Insurance Consumer Hotline at 800-726-7390. The hotline number in Illinois is (866) 445-5364.
• Be wary of door-to-door salespeople. Medicare has no sales representatives, and agents cannot solicit Medicare plans at your home without an appointment.
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• Avoid sales people who offer free lunches for listening to a sales presentation. Federal law prohibits offers of free meals in exchange for signing up for a plan or listening to a presentation on Medicare.
• Do not give personal information to an unlicensed agent. Salespeople are not allowed to ask for a Social Security, bank account or credit card number during marketing activities. When you do enroll, you may need to provide such information, but make sure the salesperson is legitimate by calling the numbers above.
• Insurance salespeople cannot ask for online payments: They must send a bill. Once you decide to buy a plan and have verified the agent is licensed, then you may give the agent personal information for enrollment and billing.
• Medicare has strict rules on forbidden sales practices. Also, remember that Medicare is not part of the federal health insurance marketplace (exchange) under the Affordable Care Act. The marketplace is not meant to serve Medicare recipients.
• If you find the process confusing or need help, ask a relative or trusted friend to come with you when you are talking to a sales representative or searching for plans online.
Extensive information on Medicare insurance plans is available online at medicare.gov or by calling 1-800-Medicare. The online site allows you to enter your information securely and find plans that are available in your area and explore drug plans that match your prescriptions.
Before you do business with a charity or company, check its BBB Business Review or BBB Charity Review at www.bbb.org or by calling 314-645-3300.