CBS News Reports on Fraudulent Sales of Medicare Advantage Plans

Last night I noted that CBS News was beginning an investigation of Medicare Advantage plans. The first part reported on how these plans receive more money than the government’s Medicare program spends on beneficiaries, and uses they money to increase their own profits. Tonight’s report is on another problem I’ve discussed before–the fraudulent matter in which the plans recruit people who do not understand what they are signing:

Seventy-four-year-old T.W. Aldridge of Mississippi woke up one day to discover he’d suddenly been switched from the government-run Medicare to a private Medicare Advantage plan. A con artist insurance salesman had forged his signature in order to collect a $300 commission, putting an ailing Aldridge in a plan his son says his doctors would not accept, CBS News chief investigative correspondent Armen Keteyian reports.

“He told the doctor ‘I can’t go to the hospital. I don’t even have insurance, they got me so fouled up,'” said T.W.’s son, Mark Aldridge.

A CBS News investigation has found Medicare Advantage has become a costly disadvantage for tens of thousands of seniors who unknowingly wind up on a private plans they don’t want or need, hooked by unscrupulous salesman.

At the Medicare Rights Center, complaints pour in daily about tactics used by some of the 200,000 agents pushing private Medicare plans nationwide.

“Insurance companies are doing very well quarter by quarter thanks to these programs,” says the center’s Robert Hayes. “Brokers, who are often pretty much unregulated in most parts of the country are going around, working on high commissions.”

To date, 43 states have received complaints about people being coerced or conned into private Medicare plans. The complaints include forged signatures, identity theft, lying about coverage and illegal high-pressure door-to-door sales tactics.

Leslie Norwalk, the head of Medicare, says her agency is cracking down on deceptive sales practices…

CBS News has learned that, overall, at least 36,000 seniors have pulled out of their private Medicare plans in just the first four months of this year. And nearly 100 private plans have been ordered by Medicare to change the way they do business.

These stories are commonplace. Every week I see patients who have been signed up for a Medicare Advantage plan without realizing it. Most say that they were told that it was to add to their Medicare or to save money, but never that they were changing from the government program to a private program. I’ve even had one patient this week who does not believe she even signed anything before being switched. Hopefully having the news media cover this will both help educate people to be wary of those coming to their door with such offers, and encourage greater government action to prevent this fraud. Recently the AMA has repeated their call to end government subsidies of these programs and Barack Obama discussed the problems while campaigning in May.

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