As the open enrollment period for Medicare comes to a close today, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services reminds elderly Americans and disabled individuals eligible for the Medicare program that now is the time to cancel a plan that no longer suits you or enroll in or make changes to your current healthcare coverage.
The Medicare open enrollment period lasted from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7 this year, a change from 2010. While Medicare 2012 premiums and deductibles are below inflation increases in previous years, Medicare beneficiaries could end up paying more for their healthcare if they fall prey to scams or fraud.
Medicare beneficiaries and their caregivers should be aware that they face an increased risk of becoming a victim of identify theft and other scams during the open enrollment period. Beneficiaries as well as family members, friends or advocates who help beneficiaries through the open enrollment process, should especially be cautious when asked to share their personal information online or over the phone.
If you’re making last-minute decisions about your Medicare coverage, keep these security tips in mind:
- Individuals should not share any personal identification information to anyone who makes unsolicited house calls or phone calls selling Medicare-related products or services. Medicare has no official sales representative so the program does not send people to solicit business. Medicare explicitly forbids health insurers from cold-calling seniors, so unless you have previously contacted a particular health plan, individuals who say they are calling on behalf of a Medicare health plan are likely scams.
- When talking on the phone with a customer service representative for a Medicare plan, verify that the person you are talking to has proper authority to act on behalf of the health plan.
- Never give out your Medicare number, Social Security number, credit card information or bank account numbers over the phone.
- Call Medicare’s toll-free help line, 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227) for help. Customer representatives are available around-the-clock to help walk you through your health and drug plan options.
- If you are already a Medicare beneficiary, review your previous bills. Though you might not be aware of it, someone may have been able to steal your Medicare information. Beneficiaries and their caregivers should get in the habit of reviewing their Medicare information on a regular basis to check for any changes that beneficiaries don’t recognize. If you notice something out-of-place on a bill, contact your healthcare provider and Medicare to find out if it’s a mistake.
Individuals waiting to make last-minute decisions about their Medicare plans should also consider should consider their personal situation, such as whether their consumption of healthcare services or medications has changed recently or is likely to change in the near future. If you have gotten married or divorced since the closing of last year’s open enrollment period, this is something else to keep in mind when choosing, changing or eliminating your current health plan.
People with Medicare can now review their drug and health plan coverage options for 2012 at www.medicare.gov/find-a-plan, where consumers can find high-quality plans. CMS uses a quality rating system of five stars to designate high-performing plans on Medicare’s Plan Finder tool.