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Crist warns of Medicare scam
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TALLAHASSEE - Attorney General Charlie Crist warned Florida seniors to be on the lookout for con artists who may try to take advantage of consumers as they shop for new Medicare prescription drug coverage plans.

On Oct. 1, companies began marketing their prescription plans to Medicare recipients across the country, although actual enrollment in the new plans will not begin until mid-November.

Crist's office has received complaints from seniors and other consumers who say they were contacted by companies claiming that they were "authorized" or "funded" by Medicare to make telephone or door-to-door contact with beneficiaries to offer assistance with the new Medicare prescription drug coverage.

Crist said consumers should be aware that any unsolicited personal contact may represent an attempt to scam a Medicare beneficiary out of money or to sell a product that may not be suitable to meet the beneficiary's needs.

"Sadly, there are those who wish to take advantage of our neediest senior citizens," Crist said in a press release. "Our citizens deserve the confidence that the price they are paying for pharmaceutical drug coverage is the fairest possible price, not one that will result in high profits for shady companies."

Crist encouraged Medicare recipients to protect themselves against these con artists, and suggested the following tips for avoiding the scam:

- No payment for a Medicare prescription drug plan should be made before Nov. 15. Prescription drug plans began marketing Oct. 1, but enrollment does not begin until Nov. 15.

- Medicare beneficiaries should never give any caller or visitor their Social Security number, bank account number or personal financial information.

- No door-to-door solicitations are permitted unless the Medicare recipient has invited the caller to their home.

- Telemarketers must comply with federal and state Do Not Call laws.

- When prescription drug plan enrollment begins Nov. 15, Medicare recipients should make sure they enroll with a prescription drug plan approved by Medicare. To verify that a plan has been approved, consumers can call Medicare's toll-free number at 1-800-633-4227.

From May through August, the Social Security Administration mailed application forms to Medicare recipients who may qualify for extra help with drug plan costs. Almost half of all Medicare beneficiaries will receive an application for extra help. The Social Security Administration may ask for general financial information on the extra help application form, but will never ask for specific bank account numbers, Crist said.

Around Oct. 15, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will send information to Medicare recipients describing the Medicare prescription drug plans that will be available to them. The initial enrollment period for Medicare prescription drug coverage will be from Nov. 15, through May 15, 2006. This six-month period will give Medicare recipients time to learn about their options and choose the best option for their particular circumstances.

Crist said it is important for Medicare beneficiaries to carefully read any mail they receive from the Social Security Administration or the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services during the implementation of the new Medicare prescription drug benefit.

If consumers have any questions related to the new Medicare prescription drug benefit, they can contact the Florida Department of Elder Affairs, which operates the Serving Health Insurance Needs of Elders (SHINE) program to provide information on Medicare, Medicaid and other specific senior issues. Consumers may call the Elder Help Line at 1-800-963-5337 to obtain information. Additional information is available at

Consumers with concerns or information about individuals misrepresenting themselves or fraudulently promoting the new Medicare prescription drug benefit should report the situation to the Attorney General's Consumer Fraud Hotline at 1-866-9-NO-SCAM (1-866-966-7226).
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