Last month I visited a clinic giving free checkups to people who have Medicare. When I looked at my Medi-care Summary Notice today, I saw charges I didn't recognize. Did they charge me after all?
Medi-care fraud happens when someone intentionally uses your Medicare number to bill Medicare for services or equipment you didn't get or didn't need. The culprit could be a care provider, a scam artist who got your patient identification number through a sham clinic or an employee with access to your records. And it costs the government billions of dollars each year.
What can you do? Check your Medicare statements. Look to see if the dates of medical visits match up with your calendar, look at the description of the medical service to see if that's what you had done, and look at the amount to see if it's about what you expected. If you aren't sure about a charge, first call the person or company who provided the service. Most errors are honest mistakes. If you still aren't sure about a charge, call the customer service number on your statement; or, the State Health Insurance Counseling office at the N.D. Insurance Department.
If you believe the charge may be fraudulent, contact the N.D. Senior Medicare Patrol at 1-800-233-1737 or report it to the Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Inspector General. There are 43 million Americans on Medicare; if every person found just one $10 mistake, we could save $430 million.
Protect your Medicare number by carrying it and giving it out only when you need to. For a majority of the people, their Medicare number is their Social Security number followed by a letter or a letter and a number. This number has to be presented to every doctor and hospital the beneficiary goes to. Identity thieves seek out Social Security numbers so they can use these numbers to assume the identity of another person and commit fraud. It's relatively easy for someone to fraudulently use your SSN to assume your identity and gain access to your bank account, credit accounts, utilities records, and other sources of personal information. Identity thieves also can establish new credit and bank accounts in your name, or use your SSN for employment purposes or to obtain medical care.
Be skeptical of clinics or providers who advertise free services specifically for Medicare patients. If you need to find a federally-funded health center that is free or low-cost, visit the Web site for Health Resources and Services Administration (www.findahealthcenter.hrsa.gov) or use the Partnership for Prescription Assistance's Free Clinic Finder. If you don't have a computer at home, visit your local library.
By reducing fraud, waste and abuse, we can keep Medicare premiums from increasing beyond the ability of many older adults to pay for them. If you suspect Medicare fraud, contact the ND SMP at 701-858-3580 or 1-800-233-1737.
Linda Madsen, of Minot, is project director of North Dakota Center for Persons with Disabilities.