Q: There are a lot of "health care consultants" out there offering to help people understand their medical bills. How can someone know if they are legit?
A: Select a health care consultant the way you would select any service provider. Check with friends for recommendations, consult with the Better Business Bureau or a consumer protection agency. Get a written contract and be sure you understand what services or assistance you’ll receive and how you will be billed for those services. You may also want to check with your local Senior Medicare Patrol for help from trained volunteers.
Q: I thought that SHIPs — as in State Health Insurance Counseling and Assistance Programs — stood for Senior, not State, and that it only helped Medicare recipients.
A: The "S" in SHIP stands for "State." Some states may call their SHIP program by another name, for example SHINE or HIICAP or something else. While most SHIP programs specialize in Medicare, in many states the counselors are well trained in other types of insurance and can counsel on Medicaid, long-term care insurance, other state insurance supports, COBRA and health insurance issues in general.
Q: Is the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services out of Iowa City, Iowa, a legitimate operation? They sent a questionnaire saying I should log onto MyMedicare.gov and sign in with my Medicare number. It supplied me with a temporary password.
A: The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is the government agency that is responsible for Medicare and Medicaid. The website MyMedicare.gov is a legitimate website where you can find information about your personal Medicare account. It is safe to go directly to that website and enter personal information. What you need to be cautious about is when you get an e-mail that asks you to click on a link. The link may be to a fictitious look-alike site.
Q: Why is the Medicare member number almost identical to our Social Security number? It makes it easier for fraud.
A: Your Medicare number is the same as your Social Security number. This is because you have to be eligible for Social Security to be eligible for Medicare. Your Medicare number is valuable to criminals. If they can steal your Medicare card, talk you into revealing your number or even pay you for your card, they have the key piece of information necessary to file a false claim or to steal your identity.
Carry your Medicare card only when you know you will need it to get the health services you require. In fact, it would be smart to make a copy of your card and scratch out all but the last four digits of your number and carry that copy instead of the real card. If you are in an accident and need emergency medical care, no hospital will deny you treatment because you don’t have your card with you.
Q: We were told not to carry our Medicare card because it shows our Social Security number. But my card does not have my individual number. Instead, it has my deceased husband's number with the letter D after it. Will scammers be able to use his number and get anything with it?
A: Scammers can try anything and they sometimes try to use the Social Security numbers of deceased persons. That’s why it is smart to notify Social Security and the three consumer credit reporting agencies (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion) of the death of a spouse so the number can be appropriately flagged.