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(COMMENTARY) Stay safe during Medicare’s open enrollment

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Dear Cheyenne,

Medicare won’t call you to offer you help in enrolling or “maximizing your benefits.”

At AARP Wyoming, it’s the time of year when we remind ourselves and our members that no Medicare enrollment specialists, hotlines, advisors or agents will call you. No matter how official someone sounds when they call, text or email; and no matter what former All-Pro quarterbacks suggest otherwise, Medicare will not call you unless you have specifically called them and asked for a call back.

If someone claims to be from Medicare and asks for your name, Medicare card number, SSN, or any personal information, it is likely a scam. Hang up and block the number.

Scammers, on the other hand, will call you. They are delighted to call you. Medicare is complicated, and the idea of not being able to see a doctor is scary. Scammers use those elements to prey on uncertainty and fear, making Medicare’s Open Enrollment open season for fraud.

Medicare fraud is a big deal involving big money. It is estimated that 18% of the U.S. population is on the government’s insurance product for older adults and scammers bilk beneficiaries for more than $100 billion per year. Scammers come up with sophisticated plans to pressure consumers to give personal information, or Medicare card numbers under the auspices of “losing coverage or benefits.

There are legitimate ways to reach out to Medicare. If you do need to get a replacement card, call 800-633-4227, or download one from Medicare.gov (with your account information). If you are looking for someone you can trust or ask questions regarding Medicare and Medicare Advantage, try the Wyoming State Health Insurance Information Program at 1-800-856-4398, or the Department of Insurance at 307-777-7401.

Again, Medicare will never call you unless you call them and request a call back. That means if someone calls out of the blue telling you they can help you maximize your Medicare benefits, get you free medical equipment using your existing Medicare benefits, free lab work, get you a flex card, or just asks you to confirm your Medicare card number, hang up. Even if the caller ID says, “Health Care,” or “Medicare.”

While I’ve got you here, I want to point out that Medicare Advantage open enrollment takes place starting Jan. 1 and running through March. Medicare.gov tells us Medicare Advantage is a Medicare-approved plan from a private company that offers an alternative to original Medicare and can be a bundled plan for services like dental, vision, and more.

This means the floodgates open to a massive number of advertisements with pitchmen and official-looking spokespersons telling you they can get you more out of your Medicare benefits.

We spoke with our friends at the Wyoming Insurance Department and want to remind you of a few things when considering a Medicare Advantage plan. If you are thinking about buying into one of these plans, understand that just because services like dental, vision and more may be available in your area, it doesn’t mean your provider will accept coverage through a Medicare Advantage plan for any number of reasons. Buying into one of these plans also doesn’t necessarily mean there are doctors in your area that accept the plan. Before you buy a Medicare Advantage plan, remember to reach out to your healthcare providers with the specific product you are considering to make sure coverage exists through their office.

Last thing: remember, Medicare will never call you unless you call them and request a call back. Stay safe!

Sam Shumway
State Director of AARP Wyoming


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