Street Talk: Take care with Medicare

Direct response.
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Health Alliance Plan (HAP), a Michigan-based nonprofit health plan, is cautioning consumers about a recent Medicare scam. Unsuspecting consumers are being engaged in conversations about their Medicare coverage with a Medicare “representative” and, during the call, are asked for their Medicare ID number. HAP said this can result in unauthorized changes or even a complete change in the consumer’s Medicare Advantage plan.

HAP recommends consumers hang up on anyone requesting their Medicare ID number and immediately call the customer service number on the back of their insurance card. HAP’s customer care team ensures each member’s coverage is continued and nothing irregular has occurred with their account.

“We are receiving an increasing number of reports about aggressive Medicare solicitations aimed at securing Medicare ID numbers from unsuspecting consumers,” said Margaret Anderson, senior vice president, HAP. “Consumers are always able to get information on Medicare plans without providing an ID number. The only time the Medicare ID number is required is when consumers are actually enrolling in a plan. We advise HAP members to treat their Medicare ID with the same high level of protection they give Social Security and credit card numbers. We don’t want any of our members — or any senior — to be caught up in a scam.”

HAP offered these tips for protecting a Medicare account:

  • Never give your Medicare number or other personal information to an unknown caller.
  • Be suspicious of anyone who calls and claims to be able to help you sign up for coverage but needs to confirm your Medicare number or asks for your Medicare number to provide you enrollment information.
  • If a caller says they’re from Medicare and asks for your Medicare number or other personal information, hang up. The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services will never call to ask for personal information or check Medicare numbers.
  • Don’t trust caller ID. Scammers use technology to hide their real numbers and instead display numbers that look legitimate — some even use the word “government” on the caller ID.
  • Anyone who tries to sell Medicare insurance while claiming to be an “official Medicare agent” is a scammer. Medicare does not use representatives. If someone comes to your door claiming to be from Medicare, remember Medicare does not send representatives to your home.
  • Ignore anyone who calls saying you must join their prescription drug plan or you will lose your Medicare coverage. The Medicare prescription drug plan (also known as Part D) is completely voluntary.
  • Be alert for mailers that appear to be government communications but are advertisements for private companies. These mailers will sometimes have a disclaimer, but it is buried in small print. Read carefully.

Consumers with questions about Medicare or HAP can call its customer service team at (800) 801-1770, 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Friday or view its Medicare Advantage plans at hap.org/medicare.

Fighting back

Battle Creek nonprofit New Level Sports Ministries (NLSM) was awarded over $200,000 in state funding through the Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities to distribute personal protective equipment (PPE) and educational material to the historic Battle Creek Washington Heights neighborhood.

Washington Heights is home to 60% of Battle Creek’s Black population, the demographic most affected by COVID-19. The majority of residents have limited access to quality PPE, and struggle with rising unemployment, poverty and lack of access to health care. PPE will be provided by STEWART Industries, a longstanding African American-owned business, under the Healthy Battle Creek campaign.

“Many Battle Creek organizations have worked throughout the pandemic to deliver as much coronavirus relief funding as possible, despite limited resources,” said Pastor Chris McCoy, executive director of NLSM. “The funding provided through the Rapid Response Initiative will save lives in our community by providing much-needed PPE to families, especially during the holidays which could become super-spreader gatherings.”

The Michigan Coronavirus Task Force was created per Executive Order 2020-55, to study the causes of racial disparities and recommend actions to address the historical and systemic inequities. The Rapid Response Initiative was created, under the task force, to implement a rapid response strategy to mitigate the impact of service gaps and special needs that can be addressed in 120 days.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted communities of color in Michigan,” said Erick Stewart, president of STEWART Industries. “African Americans represent nearly 14% of the state’s population, yet they represent 40% of the deaths from coronavirus. Our community is literally dying due to lack of resources and access to care. The NLSM Healthy Battle Creek campaign will save lives through the distribution of PPE with the help of key community partners.”

NLSM, upon receiving funds, will finalize partnerships with economic development entities and the larger ministry community to ensure success. STEWART Industries was assembling 1,200 initial PPE resource kits to be delivered prior to Thanksgiving. The kits included three-ply disposable masks, disinfectant wipes, sanitizer, gloves and more.

The first round of kits was distributed on Nov. 21. An estimated 40,000 pounds of food, which was donated earlier that same week to NLSM, also was distributed along with the PPE kits to those families and individuals with food needs.

The Healthy Battle Creek community-wide campaign will be managed by NLSM and community partners. Organizers are hoping the Battle Creek campaign will become a model for other cities to address racial and health disparities and systemic inequities.

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