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Avoiding COVID-19 Vaccination Scams

Guest blog by Charles Clarkson, Esq., Project Director, Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey

On March 13, 2020, a national health emergency was declared due to the coronavirus pandemic. After many years of running the Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey (SMP), I knew it was only a matter of time before we starting seeing SCAMS related to the health emergency. Fraudsters are always looking for ways to scam people, and the COVID-19 public health emergency has been no exception. Initially, fraudsters promoted false cures, sold phony personal protective equipment, given people illegitimate COVID tests and billed Medicare for sham tests and treatments. Now, they are targeting vaccines.

The goals of the fraudsters are very simple: to obtain your information, which they can use to steal your personal and/or medical identity, or to outright steal your money. The SMP has seen a number of vaccine scams. The more you know about these scams the more likely it is you will not fall victim to them.

Head-of-the-line Vaccine Scams

Scammers call and say you can get your vaccine early by providing your Medicare number or other personal information. They may ask for payment upfront and/or insurance information in order to be placed on a priority waiting list for a vaccine you may never receive.

Don’t fall for it. You cannot pay to get in line for a vaccine.

Survey Vaccine Scams

You have gotten your vaccine. You then get an email asking you to complete a health survey. It looks legitimate and has logos and telephone numbers that appear to be genuine. You want to be helpful because you are grateful you were able to get the vaccine. Some of these surveys are also offering money or other incentives to entice you to participate in the survey. The messages may also claim to be urgent, giving a timeframe of expiration to get you to click on their deceptive link to gain personal information.

Don’t fall for it. A vaccine survey offering you an incentive or stating a sense of urgency to complete is a red flag. You should double-check logos and phone numbers and hover over links to see if they are long and suspicious. Don’t click on them.

Vaccine Trial Scams

There are numerous clinical research trials in the race to develop additional COVID-19 vaccines, treatments and cures. Legitimate clinical trials may offer payments to participants under well-defined legal guidelines. However, career criminals know the offer of a paid clinical trial is also an opportunity for financial identity theft.

Don’t fall for it. Be wary of unsolicited emails, calls, or personal contacts requesting personal information. The Federal Trade Commission issued a warning in October 2020 with helpful hints to determine whether a trial is legitimate.

Vaccines-for-Sale Scams

Scammers are setting up fake websites offering to sell vaccines or vaccine kits. Some are imitating legitimate pharmaceutical manufacturers. In some cases, scammers were asking for payment for vaccines and/or kits via a credit card and sending payment to a specific credit union.

Don’t fall for it. You can’t buy a vaccine.

For More Information About Vaccine Scams Affecting Older Adults

If you think you have been a victim of Medicare fraud, errors, or abuse, contact the Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey at 1-732-777-1940 or call our hotline at 1-877-SMP-4359 [1-877-767-4395]. You can also visit our website.

Find Help in Your State

If you live in a state other than NJ, you can find help by visiting the SMP Resource Center.

If you have questions related to Medicare billing for COVID-19 vaccines, call 1-800-Medicare [1-800-633-4227] or visit Medicare.

Charles Clarkson, Esq., has been the Project Director of the Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey, under the auspices of the Jewish Family Services of Middlesex County, since 2005. The Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey is a federally funded program of the U.S. Administration for Community Living and part of the national Senior Medicare Patrol project. There is a Senior Medicare Patrol in every state, including the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgins Islands. The SMP of New Jersey is responsible for teaching Medicare recipients in the state to become better healthcare consumers. As part of this effort, seniors are provided with information to prevent them from becoming victims of fraud, waste and abuse in the Medicare program. The SMP program also assists beneficiaries in reviewing suspected Medicare fraud and can act as an advocate to assist beneficiaries in fighting Medicare fraud, waste and abuse.

Clarkson is a New York attorney who for many years was Vice President, Deputy Counsel and Corporate Secretary of TLC Beatrice International Holdings, Inc., a multi-billion, international food company.

Medicare Fraud. How We Can Fight it.

Today we bring you a blog post from guest blogger and NJFA friend Charles Clarkson, Project Director of the Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey.


By Charles Clarkson, Project Director, Senior Medicare Patrol of NJ

 

Medicare fraud is estimated to cost American taxpayers $60 billion a year, monies that are siphoned off and are not available for legitimate Medicare services. At the Senior Medicare Patrol of NJ (SMP), which is a federally funded program, we want to educate Medicare beneficiaries so they do not become victims of Medicare fraud. There are steps Medicare beneficiaries can take to fight this fraud. The most important step is to protect your Medicare number. Even though Medicare issued new Medicare cards to all beneficiaries with randomly generated numbers and letters and removed the social security number from the cards, the Medicare number (now known as the Medicare Beneficiary Identifier) is still very valuable to fraudsters who can use it to bill Medicare. Beneficiaries should not give out their Medicare numbers to anyone they don’t trust. This is especially true for the many beneficiaries who receive robo calls on a constant basis. The rule of thumb is to never pick up the phone if you do not recognize the telephone number on your message machine. Let the message machine screen all of your calls and then you can decide to return the call or not. Most beneficiaries will find that no message is left and they can then ignore the call.

The next step is to always read your Medicare Summary Notice (MSN), the document a beneficiary receives from Medicare usually 3 months after seeing a Medicare provider. It is important for beneficiaries to review their MSN, not just because of fraud but because mistakes can also happen.

Step three is to keep a personal health care journal or calendar. Record every time you see a medical provider, take a test or have other services provided. When you get your MSN compare it with your journal or calendar. Make sure you are not being scammed. If you are not sure something is fraud or you have a question about the billing, call your provider and ask for an explanation.

Step four is to report any suspected fraud or error. This step is vitally important. Failure to report will translate into the provider getting away with any fraud or errors. Remember, this is your money. You pay Medicare premiums, co-pays, co-insurance, deductibles and other charges. If you need assistance in fighting Medicare fraud, as you were unable to resolve it yourself, call the SMP. Our telephone number is 732-777-1940 and our hot-line number if 877-SMP-4359. A beneficiary can also use our web-site to report a fraud on the form provided. Visit seniormedicarepatrolnj.org

Even if you are not sure if it is fraud but need questions answered, call us. We are a free service and we are here to help. Every beneficiary should feel empowered to help fight Medicare fraud. At the SMP we want to keep Medicare as a viable program that is there for every beneficiary.


Charles Clarkson is Project Director of the Senior Medicare Patrol of NJ

New Rules for Durable Medical Equipment in New Jersey

New Rules for Durable Medical Equipment in New Jersey

If you are a beneficiary with Original Medicare (a person who has Parts A and B of Medicare and not a Medicare Advantage plan) who uses  or plans to use certain durable medical equipment and supplies, such as oxygen, walkers, or wheelchairs, you should know about the new rules that started on July 1, 2013 in New Jersey.  The Durable Medical Equipment, Prosthetics, Orthotics, and Supplies (DMEPOS) Competitive Bidding Program is an attempt to save money for taxpayers and people with Medicare and may change the suppliers people with Medicare will need to use.

Most counties and zip codes in New Jersey will now be a part of this competitive bidding program.  You can check if your zip code is in a competitive bidding are by going to a fact sheet at http://www.cms.gov/Outreach-and Education/Outreach/Partnerships/Downloads/DMEPOSBeneFactSheetMarch2013.pdf. 

As of July 1, people with Original Medicare who live in or travel to one of these areas and need the items listed below will need to get these items from an approved contract supplier if they want Medicare to cover these supplies, unless their current suppliers decide to become grandfathered suppliers (non-contract suppliers that choose to continue to provide certain rented medical equipment or oxygen under the terms of the program). 

Beneficiaries will need to find out which suppliers are Medicare contract suppliers to make sure Medicare will  pay for their medical equipment or supplies. You can find out if a supplier is a contract supplier for the program by visiting http://www.medicare.gov/supplierdirectory/search.html or by calling 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227). 

The competitive bidding program will only cover certain categories of products.  The 8 product categories that are included in the program are:

1.         Oxygen, oxygen equipment, and supplies;

2.         Standard (power and manual) wheelchairs, scooters, and related  accessories;

3.         Enteral nutrients, equipment, and supplies;

4.         Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) devices, Respiratory Assist Devices (RADs) and related supplies and accessories;

5.         Hospital beds and related accessories;

6.         Walkers and related accessories;

7.         Support surfaces (Group 2 mattresses and overlays); and

8.         Negative Pressure Wound Therapy pumps and related supplies and accessories.

In addition to the categories of items listed, Medicare will be starting a national mail-order program for diabetic testing supplies at the same time.  The national mail-order program will include all parts of the United States, including the 50 States, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, Guam, and American Samoa.  With this national mail-order program, people with Original Medicare will need to use a contract supplier for diabetic testing supplies delivered to their homes.  If these supplies are not delivered to a beneficiary’s  home, a beneficiary can go to any retailer that provides these supplies, but they may pay more. 

To assist beneficiaries, Medicare mailed information to people in the competitive bidding areas who use the items included in the program, in addition to those who use diabetic testing supplies across the country.  Approximately 5.7 million people with Medicare have been sent a letter and information.  You can review the letters, introductory brochure, national mail-order program fact sheet and other program education materials by visiting http://www.cms.gov/Outreach-and-Education/Outreach/Partnerships/DMEPOS_Toolkit.html.

Should you have any questions, please contact the Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey at 732-777-1940.  You can also contact the State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) at 1-800-792-8820.

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