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by Sid Kirchheimer, AARP Bulletin, March 29, 2010
President Obama isn’t the only one hitting the road to sell health care reform and what it means to you. In the latest twist on an old scam, unscrupulous salesmen are visiting senior housing facilities, pretending to be federal employees and peddling supplemental Medicare and other insurance plans.
Hucksters claiming to be with “ObamaCare” and representing the federal government have already targeted several apartment complexes populated by older residents in Missouri, says Rona McNally of that state’s Senior Medicare Patrol, an advocacy group funded by the federal Administration on Aging that educates Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries about health care fraud.
“They go door to door, saying they need to talk about your Medicare benefits, and that you may need to take a certain plan in order to get coverage,” she tells Scam Alert. “They use fear, they use change as an opportunity to get to seniors.”
Although it may be legal to sell supplemental insurance plans door to door, it’s certainly illegal for salesmen to say they are government officials when they are not, says McNally.
“The government does not go door to door selling insurance,” she adds. “If someone comes to your home to sell you a plan, shut the door.”
A Scam Ripped From the Headlines
With the ink barely dry on the new health care reform law, the ObamaCare ruse is the latest trick to get older Americans to buy insurance or other products they may not need. A common scheme uses postcards that warn of changes in tax laws or Social Security benefits to attempt to sell annuities.
For these mailings, the sender usually buys a “lead list” from a broker containing names, addresses and phone numbers of older people. The sender often uses an official-sounding name, such as the Federal Processing Center, and rents a Washington, D.C., post office box to make its purported government affiliation seem more credible.
But sometimes salesmen just arrive at the door. They may be guided by the same type of lead lists, or just identify retirement communities and complexes housing older folks.
The danger: With a front-door visit, some residents may be more easily pressured into buying a plan on the spot.
Buying a supplemental insurance plan can be wise for Medicare recipients, but before you sign up, you need to do some homework.
“You really need to check with your provider before buying anything to make sure they work with that plan,” advises McNally. “You need to know what your out-of-pocket costs will be.”
And what you really need to know: Uncle Sam does not make house calls to sell health insurance.
Sid Kirchheimer is the author of Scam-Proof Your Life (AARP Books/Sterling).
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