Letters to the Editor

Guest view: Scammers want your Medicare number

Each year $9.7 billion taxpayer dollars are lost to Medicare fraud, according to FBI estimates. In Illinois, $433 million is lost to scammers who improperly bill Medicare for services or supplies not provided.

Often these dollars go to scammers who intentionally defraud the government. And, while many disagree about how the government should spend taxpayer dollars, we can all agree that Medicare dollars should not be spent on fraudulent claims. Fortunately we can do something to start eliminating this abuse.

If you think you are a being contacted by a health care scammer, you should take it personally because the person committing the fraud is stealing directly from you.

Typically we don’t stop to think before giving out our Medicare number, but it gives a scammer the opportunity to bill Medicare for services you may not need. Scammers make claims look legitimate and bet that you won’t notice.

This affects you personally because if Medicare thinks you are receiving services, you can “use up” your benefit even if you aren’t receiving the service.

If your Medicare account bills for a wheelchair you don’t need, later you may be denied for a wheelchair you do need. This not only costs Medicare billions of dollars and jeopardizes your rights, it can put your health at risk because health equipment may not fit or work properly if your doctor doesn’t order it.

The Illinois Senior Medicare Patrol at AgeOptions wants to help you prevent, detect and report health care fraud. Driven by volunteers around the state like me, we educate consumers about health care fraud and the risks.

I work with AgeSmart Community Resources in Belleville, an organization that through planning and funding, responds to community needs and provides answers on aging in Belleville and the surrounding counties. We can help you with questions about your health care bills and report Medicare fraud to investigators.

Protect yourself against health care fraud!

▪  Don’t share your Medicare number with strangers.

▪  Don’t accept service from someone who calls/visits you unexpectedly, even if they say your doctor sent them.

▪  Don’t keep your Medicare card in your wallet. You do not need them in an emergency.

Here are some things you can do:

▪  Read your Medicare Summary Notice or Explanation of Benefits from your insurance company. Watch for services that you didn’t get, services that were not ordered by your doctor, billing for the same thing twice or other billing errors.

▪  Take the mail out of your mailbox, review your medical bills and report anything suspicious.

▪  Shred documents with your personal information on them before you recycle.

Find out more about volunteering in the Belleville area through AgeSmart Community Resources at www.agesmart.org.

To report fraud, ask questions or learn how to protect yourself, call AgeOptions at 800-699-9043 or visit illinoisSMP.org.

Carrie Nevills is a Senior Medicare Patrol volunteer at AgeSmart Community Resources in Belleville.