In a first-of-its-kind partnership, Gov. Bob Riley’s administration and a plaintiff lawyers’ group are teaming up to provide kits aimed at protecting Alabama’s elderly from Medicare fraud.
The state Department of Senior Services will distribute 100,000 of the Medicare Protection Toolkits during October through senior citizen centers and Meals on Wheels programs and by calling the department at 1-877-425-2243.
The distribution proceeds the period from Nov. 15 to Dec. 31 when the elderly can change their Medicare Advantage health plans and Medicare prescription drug plans, said Irene Collins, Riley’s appointee to run the Department of Senior Services.
Riley unveiled the toolkits Monday at a news conference with Collins and others.
This would not have been possible without the donation of $75,000 from the Alabama Association for Justice," Riley said.
Gibson Vance, the association’s president-elect, said the partnership with the state marked a first for the organization, formerly known as the Alabama Trial Lawyers Association, and its charitable arm, Alabama Civil Justice Foundation.
In the past, the plaintiff lawyers’ group has sometimes been a political lightning rod in elections.
Vance, a lawyer with the Beasley Allen firm in Montgomery, said most Medicare providers are honest, but "a small number of providers find ways to steal millions of dollars each year."
The toolkits remind the elderly to ask questions of anyone promoting health care plans and take time to make decisions. There are also explanations of red flags to look for and numbers to call to report suspected fraud.
Barbara Dieker, director of the Office of Consumer Choice and Protection at the U. S. Administration on Aging, said several states have done similar kits., but "I’ve never seen such a nice toolkit."
Collins said one common type of fraud is for someone identifying themselves as a Medicare employee to call or visit an elderly person to try to sell a service. Medicare does not make home visits or unsolicited phone calls, she said.
People who make the calls or visits may be trying to sell services that sound like a good deal but really aren’t, or they may be trying to get enough information to steal the person’s identity, Collins said.
Dieker said the worst example she had seen was a woman who delivered homemade cakes to gain elderly people’s trust and get inside their homes to gather personal information.
"There is no technique or strategy beyond limits," she said.