By Catherine Powell
|Image courtesy Pixabay|
It's that time of the year again when many of us shop not only for holiday presents but affordable health care. Just like the Grinch Who Stole Christmas, there are a lot of healthcare scammers out there during open enrollment who won't only steal your premiums but could leave you on the hook for tens of thousands of dollars next year. To help you weed out the fraudsters, I've come up with my top-10 list of healthcare scams.
#1: If the price is too good to be true, the deal is as bad as it gets. - if you open a web browser and type in "affordable healthcare," odds are the top search links won't be for healthcare.gov but for other providers who offer deep discounts for health coverage. The problem is, the "coverage" that some of these firms offer isn't health insurance at all. Of course, the only way most of their subscribers find this out is when they use the card at an ER or other medical facility only to discover that the supposed coverage they've been paying for is worthless. Don't fall for slick ads or believe the claims of these firms who purport to offer discount coverage that isn't worth the paper it's printed on. Make sure you go through healthcare.gov or medicare.gov to select a plan that pays off when you need it most.
#2: Beware of unsolicited phone calls, emails and texts. - P.T. Barnum used to say, "There's a sucker born every minute." If you want to avoid that distinction during open enrollment, avoid being sucked in by spurious calls, texts, and emails that warn you of dire consequences unless you comply immediately. These are almost universally sent by scammers trying to get you to cough up either money or personal information. Some of these con artists have been known to impersonate government officials or representatives of legitimate healthcare providers. If there is any doubt, contact either your current provider or go to healthcare.gov or medicare.gov to find out if there are any issues you need to address. Both healthcare.gov and medicare.gov offer 24/7 phone assistance you can trust.
#3: Which website is which? - Another thing that gets a lot of people into trouble when choosing a healthcare plan is clicking on a link that they assume to be a legitimate healthcare provider only to find out later that they've landed on a clone website. Any time you use a search engine to find a healthcare provider, make absolutely certain that the URL is the correct one you seek. Not only do some sophisticated scammers produce picture perfect copies of legitimate healthcare sites, they will even register a URL that is so close to the authentic one that many people are fooled. If a website URL reads anything other than the proper spelling, avoid it and report it immediately before you or someone you know gets scammed.
#4: Is that bill you received legit? - Another popular scam is to mail consumers official looking bills for coverage, treatment or pharmaceuticals that they never received. Many of the con artists are cagey enough to make the invoices look all too real, even going to the trouble of emulating the logos of actual healthcare organizations. If you receive an unexpected bill in the mail, don't pay it until you contact your healthcare provider. Never call the number on a suspicious bill. It's all too easy for the crooks to have it forwarded back to them. Never provide a credit card number to anyone who you are not 100% sure is a legitimate healthcare provider. Doing so will only lead you to even more fraudulent bills which will take 30-days to catch up with you.
#5: Medical identity theft is bad news. - If you inadvertently provide thieves with critical personal and medical information, not only could you find yourself bombarded with bills from legitimate healthcare providers, you could also lose access to healthcare altogether. That's because identity theft steals more than your good name, it allows thieves to pose as you in order to receive free medical treatment, medical devices, and/or prescriptions before leaving you on the hook for the bill.
#6: There's no such thing as a free lunch. - Especially in the healthcare market. If you receive an offer for free medical supplies, free test kits or are promised a rebate, think twice before responding. If you don't, you could wind up being exploited. It doesn't matter if you receive the offer online, on the phone or via snail mail. The FTC reports that free offers are one of the chief tools being used by criminals to zero in on suckers in order to glean information used to defraud them at a later date.
#7: When was the last time you checked your benefit statement? - If it's been more than a month or so since you perused it then it's possible that you're already being fleeced. Just as credit card fraud is usually spotted by consumers when their statement comes in only to reveal that an unauthorized user has gained access to their card, the same holds true with healthcare fraud. If you don't review your benefit statement regularly, you could come to find that someone other than you has been helping themselves to your benefits. If this goes unchecked, you could wind up being liable for treatments or pharmaceuticals that you neither requested nor received.
#8: How secure are your medical records? - Even if you do everything on your part to keep your identity secure, there's always a risk that someone could steal them right out from under your nose. This means you need to store medical correspondence and bills in a place that a guest or a thief would never think of looking. Also, make sure you shred any bills, medical records, and correspondence from your healthcare providers if you intend to toss them out. Thieves aren't averse to dumpster diving to obtain personal and medical information.
#9: Guard your cards. - Just as you protect your social security card, you need to guard your Medicare or health insurance card. That means not only keeping them safe from being stolen, it also means never showing it to anyone other than a legitimate healthcare provider.
#10: Who you gonna call? - If you suspect fraud, make sure you report it promptly to the authorities. The FBI advises every consumer to call their local US attorney's office as well as the state attorney general's office to report potential healthcare scams. The more people who contact the authorities, the safer we'll all be during open enrollment.
Catherine Powell is the owner of A Plus All Florida Insurance in Orange Park, Florida. To find out more about saving money on all your insurance needs, check out her website at http://aplusallfloridainsuranceinc.com