Saturday, April 27, 2013

Health Care Scams Against Seniors Soar as Obamacare Approaches


By Caroline Howle and Connor Martin – Ahead of ObamaCare’s massive overhaul of the U.S. health care system – to begin taking full effect in January 2014 – law enforcement agencies have noted recent upticks in a wide range of health insurance scams perpetrated by criminals looking to capitalize on public confusion regarding the law.  Unfortunately, these scams are hitting seniors and their bank accounts the hardest.

Sadly, the elderly and the poor are overwhelmingly targeted when it comes to what the Federal government has labeled “imposter scams,” with nearly 83,000 complaints filed in the last year.[1]  Law enforcement officials warn that these imposter scams take a variety of forms, from suspicious characters knocking on doors and calling people at home – to phony ads offering free health coverage on cable TV.  Mature Americans, whose retirement savings are ripe-for-the-picking, make for easy targets.  Their particular concern for the changes being made to their health care coverage – combined with the likelihood that they will be home to answer the phone – make seniors more susceptible to these deplorable scams.

The recent rise in the number of scams can be contributed in part to the grotesquely convoluted nature of ObamaCare itself, which has generated widespread confusion over the significant changes taking place in the nation’s health care system.  ObamaCare was rammed through Congress before many lawmakers even had a chance to find out what was in it – leaving the rest of America dazed and confused by what the law would mean for their families and their tax dollars.  As a result, the law was passed without full and thorough consideration of a vast multitude of concerns and problems, including various types of insurance scams and other breeds of fraud, manipulation and abuse.  Now, it will be up to state authorities and insurance companies to address reported incidents of fraud and to work to apprehend the perpetrators of these crimes.

Ambiguity and uncertainty have characterized ObamaCare from its very inception; American citizens and businesses are still largely unsure of the law’s mandates, as well as how the law will ultimately impact patient access, personal finance, business prospects, and the health industry at large.  In fact, recent polls from the Kaiser Family Foundation indicate that three years after its passage, 57 percent of the overall population still does not understand how ObamaCare will impact them![2]  Confusion and instability will only continue as major components of the law face delays and as the timelines for implementation of ObamaCare’s critical provisions are constantly readjusted.

It is in this vacuum of understanding that criminal elements have recognized a prime opportunity to prey on the vulnerable to make a fast, illicit buck.  According to James Quiggle, a spokesman for the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud, “misconceptions about the law’s provisions give criminals an opportunity to exploit consumers.  ‘Confusion is a crook’s best friend.’”[3]  Moreover, with something as massive as the U.S. health care system – comprising at least one-sixth of the entire U.S. economy – the Federal Trade Commission warns consumers that fraudsters are putting a “dangerous twist on the regular scams.”[4]

As it stands currently, a lack of real clarity surrounding ObamaCare will likely continue as health care providers, insurers and government employees work to institute this cumbersome law.  And, criminal operators will assuredly continue trying to leverage this lack of clarity for their own ill-gotten advantage, mostly by targeting specific groups and defrauding them of their individual financial wealth.  However, Mature Americans can avoid being victims, even by undertaking a handful of basic steps and practices, such as refusing to give personal or financial information over the phone or to a stranger.      As outdated information, and misinformation, continue to be everyday facts of life in the so-called “information age,” and as more business is done electronically, all Americans young and old, should remain vigilant regarding their personal finances and be on alert for suspect activity.

[1] Gold, Jenny, “Seniors Get Hung Up In Health Care Scams,” Kaiser Health,http://www.everydayhealth.com/senior-health/seniors-get-hung-up-in-health-care-scams.aspx.
[2] Gold. Jenny, “Poll Finds 3 Years Later, Americans Still Don’t Understand Obamacare,” Kaiser Family Foundation, March 21, 2013, http://www.tlnt.com/2013/03/21/poll-finds-3-years-later-americans-still-dont-understand-obamacare/.
[3] Cheplick, Thomas, “States on Hook to Prevent Obamacare Scams,” The Heartland Institute,http://news.heartland.org/newspaper-article/states-hook-prevent-obamacare-scams.

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