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The home for VPR's coverage of health and health industry issues affecting the state of Vermont.

Cassidy: Medicare Cards

Community of Vermont Elders - Vermont SMP
'For more information, call 211 to reach the Vermont Senior Medicare Patrol at the Community of Vermont Elders.'

My new Medicare card recently came in the mail as part of an effort to cut down on identity theft. In place of a Social Security number, the new cards feature numbers and letters that are meaningless to the casual observer. But thieves can pose as officials asking by phone or email for social security numbers and dates of birth, supposedly to verify the information on the new cards.

The government never calls or emails to request or require, such identifying information, so Medicare advises anyone who gets such a call or email to hang up or log off immediately and call 1-800-MEDICARE to report it.

Medicare fraud is also an enormous problem: in 2015, ABC News featured a report from the General Accounting Office estimating that in 2014 alone, 60 billion dollars was lost to fraud, waste, abuse and improper payments. So we’re all paying for procedures that were never performed, or medical equipment that was never delivered or was not as advertised, just to name a few examples.

Since Medicare staff can’t check every single charge, fraudulent or mistaken charges can easily slip into billing when seniors don’t examine their reports carefully. And these false charges can hurt individuals if they can’t access the care they really need later – because it was falsely billed.

Patients themselves are also the best line of defense because each one usually knows what treatment, procedure, prescriptions, and equipment they received; and it’s helpful to keep a calendar to record any medical visits and procedures.

While it’s important to read reports from Medicare – as well as any insurer – thoroughly and critically, it isn’t easy: treatments and procedures are coded, so a dermatologist’s simple removal of a mole may be coded as surgery. Questioning any confusing item is never a waste of time; at the very least, answers may help patients read future reports with more understanding.

It usually makes sense to start with the office of the doctor who ordered the procedure or medication, but every state also has a Senior Medicare Patrol, or SMP, funded by the federal government to help protect seniors from fraud.

Staff of the Vermont Senior Medicare Patrol at the Community of Vermont Elders are eager to help. Anyone who'd like more information can call 211 to reach them.

Maggie Brown Cassidy recently retired from teaching French at Brattleboro Union High School. She was also a teacher trainer and founder of the BUHS Swiss Exchange, which provided homestays and immersion experiences for hundreds of students in Vermont and Geneva. She continues to teach adults and has written many features for the Brattleboro Reformer.
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