Health scams exist in many places in American culture. Diet pills are one of the biggest and clearest examples of healthcare scams—they are not regulated like real medications, and may be ineffective or cause genuine harm. Seniors are especially vulnerable to healthcare-related scams because they frequently experience the need for healthcare as they age. Here are three major types of scams that affect seniors and how to avoid them.
- Health insurance scams
Insurance companies are large, moneymaking machines. They often use lots of fancy, detailed information and fine print to make coverage seem better than it is, but then double back on their promises in order to pay for much less than what they agreed to cover. People may also call and pose as insurance agents in order to steal private information.
The fix: check out www.healthcare.gov in order to make sure the insurance is as comprehensive as they say. Make sure they are also licensed in your state—no one wants to pay for insurance that only works in Maryland if they live in Florida! Have someone look over a policy’s information with you. Having an extra set of eyes can protect you from missing vital information. Anyone who calls asking you to verify bank account or Medicare private information is not from the insurance company! Hang up and ignore these calls, as they are used to steal money and make fraudulent insurance charges.
- “Rolling Lab” or unused services schemes
A so-called “rolling lab” (a doctor’s office on-the-go, sometimes in a bus or van, where health care “professionals” see patients in various locations) may visit a gym, nursing home, or retirement community and give patients unnecessary tests, which are then charged to insurance, Medicare, or the patient. Such a “healthcare provider” could also bill for services that were not performed, such as an HIV test or blood glucose test. Both of these are ways that primarily impact insurance, but could leave seniors with a big bill to foot too.
The fix: avoid anything that is not a true doctor’s office. “Rolling labs” often do not have the kind of legitimate certifications that doctor’s offices must have, or they make fake ones and then disappear when questioned. It is also good to write down every kind of test ordered or performed, and keep those records to make sure that insurance companies have a way to prosecute a doctor for running an unauthorized test. (They cannot test you for anything without your consent. If you are tested for something you did not ask for or consent to being tested for, that is something the doctor is at fault for ordering from the lab.)
- Medical equipment fraud
There are people who will travel door-to-door or cold-call thousands of people in order to sell “free” medical equipment. The equipment is not free, and they use all manner of ways to fool you into thinking it is: money-back guarantees, promises that Medicare covers every penny once billed, assurances that refilled supplies will come soon, etc. Any medical equipment that does not come from a doctor is suspect.
The fix: do not buy medical equipment from a salesperson; buy it from a doctor. A doctor knows what is covered and what is not, and what works well to actually treat illnesses and symptoms. Avoid getting medical advice from those not trained in healthcare, and rely only on doctors to sell sturdy, worthwhile medical equipment.
- The National Institute on Aging warns that anything that promises no risk, promotes a special product or price, requires advance payment, claims there is a limited supply, or claims to have a cure to a disease for which there is no known cure is probably a scam. The old rule of thumb applies: if it sounds too good to be true, it very likely is
- Look for information from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on the company and any medications that claim to treat illnesses not prescribed by a doctor. If the FDA has never heard of it, odds are it is a scam that could be potentially dangerous.
Federal Bureau of Investigation. Fraud Target: Senior Citizens. Available at https://www.fbi.gov/scams-safety/fraud/seniors. Retrieved February 5, 2016.
Gold, Jenny. (April 22, 2013). Seniors Get Hung up in Health Care Scams. Kaiser Health News. AARP. Health Talk. Available at http://blog.aarp.org/2013/04/22/seniors-health-care-scams-financial-fraud-targets-elderly/. Retrieved February 5, 2016.
Gott, Sharon. (May 9, 2013). Better Business Bureau warns elderly to beware of Medicare/Medicaid schemes. Better Business Bureau. Consumer news and Opinion. Vailable at http://www.bbb.org/blog/2013/05/better-business-bureau-warns-elderly-to-beware-medicaremedicaid-scams/. Retrieved February 5, 2016.
National Institute on Aging. Age Page. Beware of health Scams. Available at https://d2cauhfh6h4x0p.cloudfront.net/s3fs-public/beware-of-health-scams.pdf. Retrieved February 5, 2016.
Olivero, Magaly. (December 28, 2014). How to Protect Seniors from Health Insurance Scams. U.S. News & World Report, Health. Available at http://health.usnews.com/health-news/health-insurance/articles/2014/12/18/how-to-protect-seniors-from-health-insurance-scams. Retrieved February 5, 2016.
Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement (2012). Healthcare Scams and Other Common Types of Fraud. Available at http://www.napsa-now.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/FACT-SHEET-Elder-Financial-Abuse_Healthcare-Scams-and-Other-Common-Types-of-Fraud-06-13.pdf. Retrieved February 5, 2016.