False Medicare ads shot up in past years. Here's how you spot a scam
As Medicare open enrollment is underway, experts are warning consumers to be careful of misleading advertisements, after seeing a drastic increase in complaints regarding deceptive marketing.
Between 2020 and 2021, CMS saw an increase of 24,000 complaints of deceitful marketing strategies, such as baiting seniors on missed financial benefits and using celebrity endorsements, according to a survey by Kaiser Family Foundation.
KFF reviewed 1,200 advertisements and found that more than 80% of Medicare Advantage advertisements, sponsored by third-party brokers, urged viewers to call a toll-free number described as a “Medicare” hotline. But the number wasn't official. Additionally, 27% of ads included an official Medicare card or an image that resembled it.
Earlier this year, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services codified new rules to protect consumers, said Dr. Meena Seshamani, the CMS deputy administrator.
“We have heard about misleading marketing practices and in fact, are increasing our oversight and clamping down on these misleading marketing practices,” she said.
However, those rules won't go into effect until 2024.Rules include prohibiting advertisements from using the Medicare image or one resembling it. Additionally, ads that don't mention a specific plan will not be allowed.
How to avoid getting scammed
For now, consumers should be on the lookout for deceitful marketing practices. CMS and KFF advise the following:
- Never accept offers of money or gifts for free medical care.
- Avoid ads suggesting that a consumer is missing out on money
- Be wary of ads relying heavily on celebrity endorsements
- Don't allow anyone, except your doctor or other Medicare providers, to review your medical records or recommend service
- Ignore calls asking consumers to update their medicare plan
- Ignore calls asking for social security information
According to the Medicare website, Medicare will never call a consumer. Medicare.gov site and the 1-800-Medicare hotline are the official sources of information. But there are local options, too, Seshamani said.
“You can go to shiphelp.org to find a counselor near you who can walk you through your options, completely neutral," Seshamani said. "And they can help you to pick the option that best suits your health needs and your financial situation”
Open enrollment is ongoing through December 7.
Medicare Fraud and abuse can be reported on the Medicare hotline or by visiting the Department of Health and Human Service's website.