“My health, My Medicare” read a banner at the Johnston Senior Center Tuesday. The message set the tone for an informational session led by the Center for Medicare & Medicare Services (CMS), which was empowering seniors to take control of their health care.
The Johnston Senior Center is just one of many Rhode Island agencies that CMS is teaming up with to arm senior citizens with information and tools that will help protect them against Medicare fraud.
For 90 minutes Tuesday, a panel of three Medicare experts answered frequently asked fraud questions.
Representatives from various senior centers and agencies attended what JSC Executive Director Tony Zompa called “an important media event” that was aimed to give Medicare recipients an opportunity to learn about the common scams criminals use to obtain personal information, which often leads to identify theft.
“This is like a town hall that teaches Rhode Island seniors how to fight frauds,” said Courtney Porter Jenkins, a media relations specialist with CMS. “Our [CMS] mission is to provide local authorities with valuable information concerning Medicare fraud.”
Tuesday morning’s session was moderated by Felice Freyer, Raymond Hurd, Jon-Paul Correira and Aleatha Dickerson, who offered tips such as how to protect your personal information, detecting common fraud schemes and defending yourself against Medicare fraud.
“This was very relevant to our facility,” said Madeline Ravenelle, POINT Partner and social worker at the JSC. “Everyone should be aware of not giving information over the telephone and to check Medicare statements.”
Raymond Hurd, the acting regional administrator for CMS who works out of the Federal Building in Boston, reiterated that no Medicare official would ever ask a recipient for their personal information over the phone, nor would they show up at your door unannounced.
“Treat your Medicare and Social Security cards like credit cards; carry them only when you need them. And never, ever give them to anyone other than your health care providers,” he said.
Protecting the identify of a Medicare recipient takes vigilance.
“Be sure to check your Medicare statements each month as to just [what] they contain and make sure there’s not something there that should not be on your statement,” Hurd said.
Ravenelle said that message would be consistently driven home for Johnston seniors visiting the center.
“The Johnston Senior Center is going to tell all our clients about all these things and see if we can help bring down the cost of Medicare,” she said. “This was a very informative session. I have heard this before, however, it is definitely worth repeating. Like the people at CMS, we at the Senior Center are trying to get the message into the public.”
Too often, she said people do not recognize fraud until it is too late.
“Some people don’t read their Medicare summary notice thoroughly,” she said. “The biggest thing is don’t ever give any of your personal information over the telephone. Please remember, Medicare will not call you over the telephone for personal information. They may ask it if you call them, but they will not call you on the telephone and ask personal questions.”
Tuesday’s panelists also listed an easy way that senior citizens can help stop Medicare fraud.
The first, as Ravenelle said, is to PROTECT your Medicare number. The second was DETECT by reading your Medicare summery notice and third to REPORT your concerns if you see anything on the statement summary that should not be there.
“Don’t let anyone pressure you over the telephone into giving out personal information; just hang up,” said Jon Paul Correira, the assistant special agent in charge from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services/Office of the Inspector General. “If it seems too good to be true, it usually is.”
Catherine Taylor, the director of Elderly Affairs for the State of Rhode Island, accompanied the panelists. Taylor and the panelists explained that there are 193,053 Medicare beneficiaries in the state. They also told attendees that if a person suspects an error, fraud or abuse, they might contact their doctor or health care professional.
If a person is not satisfied with the answers, call Rhode Island SMP (Empowering Seniors to Prevent Healthcare Fraud) at 462-0740 or the United Way at 2-1-1.