Feds Mount $1M Medicare Fraud Awareness Campaign as $250 Donut Hole Checks Get Mailed

John Commins, June 8, 2010

With Medicare's $250 donut hole rebate checks to be mailed Thursday, the federal government has launched a fraud prevention campaign to warn seniors about potential scams.

The campaign includes a $1 million national radio, television, and newspaper advertisement buy in English and Spanish that will run through August, when the check distribution is expected to be completed. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said it will target the ads in areas with high concentrations of Medicare beneficiaries. The radio spots will also be broadcast in Korean and Armenian.

CMS Acting Administrator Marilynn Tavenner said the agency has heard reports that seniors across the nation are being asked for personal information by scammers who are acting under the pretense of helping the seniors get their rebate check.

"Seniors should be on the look-out for scams where people they don't know ask them for their personal information in order to get their checks," Tavenner said. "This is not how the process will work. Checks will come directly to beneficiaries who qualify for this benefit under the Affordable Care Act. Seniors or family members should contact us at 1-800-MEDICARE to report any of these types of calls or go to www.stopmedicarefraud.gov to learn more about efforts to fight scams like these."

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said public awareness is critical.

"The more we can work together to educate the American people about ways to protect themselves and the healthcare system from fraud and scams, the better chance we have to protect taxpayer dollars and the Medicare Trust Funds," Sebelius said in a media release. "In addition to this outreach and education media campaign, we are working with organizations across the country to ensure seniors know where to turn to get information about the new law and their Medicare benefits."

Also today, Sebelius and Attorney General Eric Holder sent a letter to the nation's state attorneys general, asking them to help educate seniors and other Medicare recipients in their states about potential scams connected with the rebate checks.

"We are especially concerned about fraud and increased activity by criminals seeking to defraud seniors–and we are seeking your help to stop it," Holder and Sebelius wrote in the letter.

The first $250 checks are being mailed June 10 to those Medicare beneficiaries who entered the Medicare Part D donut hole, also known as the coverage gap, in the first quarter of 2010 and are not eligible for Medicare Extra Help (also known as the low-income subsidy or LIS). The donut hole is the period in the prescription drug benefit in which the beneficiary pays 100% of the cost of their drugs until they hit the catastrophic coverage. People in the Extra Help program already have assistance with the cost of prescription drugs. Beneficiaries should contact the Social Security Administration at www.ssa.gov for information about Extra Help.

"Empowering consumers to prevent fraud is essential in preserving the integrity of the Medicare and Medicaid programs," said Assistant Secretary Kathy Greenlee. "This joint education and outreach campaign will not only protect seniors from fraud and scams but will help protect the Medicare trust fund as well."

John Commins

John Commins is a senior editor at HealthLeaders Media.

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