Medicare spends billions of dollars a year on durable medical equipment (DME) — wheelchairs, walkers, braces, and other devices prescribed by doctors to help patients deal with an injury or chronic illness at home. That's a boon to beneficiaries but also a big draw for fraudsters, who exploit older Americans' health care concerns to enrich themselves.
Stay Alert – Beware of Medical Equipment Scam
In a medical equipment scam, scammers reach out with an offer of a "free" (as in, "Medicare will pay for it") wheelchair or other DME. You might get an unsolicited phone call, see an advertisement, or be approached at a health fair. You're told that all you must do to get the "free" item is provide your Medicare or Social Security number. If you do, your number will be used to fraudulently bill Medicare.
Why should you be concerned? Because Medicare fraud results in higher deductibles and copays for Medicare beneficiaries and can even put affected patients at risk. Always be suspicious of unsolicited "free" offers and never give out your Medicare number to anyone who isn't a trusted health care provider.
Here are the warning signs of a medical equipment scam:
To protect yourself, do the following:
- You receive an unsolicited call or other communication offering a free or low-cost medical device as a Medicare "benefit."
- Someone claiming to be from Medicare asks for your Medicare or Social Security number. Medicare representatives almost never make unsolicited calls to consumers and do not ask for personal information by phone.
- Your quarterly Medicare Summary Notice (MSN) or an explanation of benefits (EOB) from your health plan lists medical equipment you did not order or receive.
In addition, don't order durable medical equipment over the phone unless advised to do so by your physician, and don't be swayed by scare tactics, such as claims by an equipment provider that you should get a device now because Medicare is running out of money.
- Hang up on unsolicited calls offering you a medical device that will be billed to Medicare.
- Carefully review MSNs and EOBs. Call Medicare (800-633-4227) or your insurance company if you see claims for supplies or services you don't recognize.
- Be aware that if you accept an offer of medical equipment, you could be responsible for up to 20 percent of the Medicare-approved cost of the item.
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