New Telemarketing Fraud Targets Medicare Beneficiaries

Has anyone called recently trying to interest you in ordering a hospital bed, wheelchair or other piece of medical hardware? Medicare law prohibits suppliers of such "durable medical equipment" from making unsolicited telephone calls to Medicare beneficiaries about these items.

Calls to beneficiaries about this type of equipment, which Medicare covers if ordered by a doctor for use in the home, are permitted in only three situations: if a beneficiary gives written permission to the supplier to make contact by phone; if the contact is regarding a covered item the supplier has already furnished to the Medicare beneficiary; or if the supplier has furnished at least one covered item to the beneficiary during the preceding 15 months.

The law helps ensure that Medicare beneficiaries aren't pressured into buying items they neither need nor want. Recently, however, some suppliers of durable medical equipment have hired independent marketing firms to make marketing phone calls for them regarding these items.

The Office of Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS OIG) has issued a special fraud alert to warn Medicare beneficiaries about these telemarketing efforts.

More generally, the government warns that consumers should always be careful about giving sensitive personal information '“ such as one's Social Security number, Medicare number or personal medical information '“ to any telemarketers who claim to be providing Medicare items or services.

Anyone with information about durable medical equipment suppliers or telemarketers engaging in any of the activities described above should contact the HHS OIG's Fraud Hotline at 1-800-447-8477.

To download the OIG''s Special Fraud Alert, click here.