Nov. 24--The holiday rush is on, and so is the rush to scam senior citizens understandably confused about Medicare and medical insurance.
With a Dec. 7 deadline looming for open enrollment, people who have put off signing up for Medicare plans, such as Part D for prescriptions and "Medigap" plans for supplemental coverage, may find themselves victimized by dishonest or marginally honest sales people, said James Chapman, a retired police officer and insurance broker.
"The open enrollment period started on October 15th and will run until December 7th. During that time, seniors are being bombarded with ads, people knocking on their doors, phone calls and so forth. We just want them to be careful and know how to recognize scams and not get taken," Chapman said.
Chapman said he was a Wood River police officer for 30 years and had tired of dishonest people, but he still has to deal with victims in his current occupation.
"It's a nightmare," he said, although he insisted that most insurance agents and brokers are honest.
"I know of several victims in the Wood River area, with more being added each day," Chapman said.
He said he and his company held a seminar recently in which he was approached by a woman who had bought a policy from a salesman who knocked on her door. She thought she had purchased medical insurance but had purchased a life insurance policy, instead, he said.
Agents, by federal law, cannot go door-to-door or call at home unless the potential customer has given them permission to do so, according to the website www.medicarerights.org.
Sales people may not claim to be "Medicare sales reps." Medicare does not send representatives to solicit business. Private insurance companies sell Medigap and Medicare Advantage and are not official representatives endorsed by Medicare.
Chapman recommends dealing with agents or brokers with whom you are familiar. It would be wise to contact a local office that has been in business for a long time, he said.
He said he expects to be swamped with calls as the Dec. 7 deadline approaches.
Chapman also cited a case in which a woman who had Tricare coverage, an excellent policy for military members, retirees and their spouses, was approached by a sales person who told her she would lose that coverage if she did not buy additional coverage from the sales person.
She may not have needed the extra coverage.
"Tricare provides some of the best coverage," he said.
Chapman said to be wary of any sales person who asks you to write a check to an agent. The dishonest "agent" could simply take the check, cash it and leave town, similar to the home repair fraud schemes that come around in warm weather.
The purchaser should receive a medical care identification card within a week or two of payment, he said.
Chapman also advised people to shop around for their supplemental coverage.
Some polices providing "Plan F" coverage, which Chapman calls "the Cadillac" of medical coverage, cost $229 per month, while other policies may cost $150.
Mutual of Omaha provides a Plan F policy for $125 for people ages 65 and 66, he said.
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