Senior Lifestyles

Medicare Update: Say 'no' to free genetic tests

Seniors approached by someone who offers them free genetic testing or cancer screening should turn them down.

Medicare doesn’t cover such tests unless a doctor who’s treating you orders them and they’re medically necessary.

Laboratory representatives have allegedly been taking swabs inside the mouths of Medicare beneficiaries at health fairs, senior centers, residential complexes for older adults and veterans’ centers.

Some seniors are getting cold calls about genetic testing kits. The caller usually offers to send a “free” genetic testing kit and asks only that you return the completed kit with your insurance information – including a Medicare number. Beneficiaries’ numbers are then used to bill Medicare for thousands of dollars of medically unnecessary genetic testing.

More creative schemes involve sending invitations to an “ice cream social” where seniors hear a presentation about “no cost” genetic testing and/or cancer screenings. During the presentation, seniors are asked for their Medicare numbers – and Medicare is later billed thousands of dollars per test.

Seniors also are being asked for their Medicare numbers and other private information after being brought into health-fair booths for DNA swabs of their cheeks. In some instances, seniors are given gift cards and told that Medicare will be billed for the tests, even though there’s no physician order for them.

A few words of warning:

• Don’t give your DNA away to a stranger. Beware of people who cold-call you or show up at your front door uninvited to push genetic tests and cancer screenings. Watch out for people who claim such tests are “100% covered by Medicare.” Medicare does cover such tests, but only when they are medically necessary and have been ordered by your doctor.

• Review all charges on your Medicare Summary Notice statements. Look for unnecessary tests or screenings you didn’t want or weren’t ordered by your doctor.

• Be cautious of unsolicited requests for your Medicare or Social Security numbers. In general, don’t give out your Medicare number or Social Security number to anyone you don’t know and trust. If your personal information is compromised, it may be used in other fraud schemes. Medicare will never contact you out of the blue and ask for your Medicare number or other personal information.

• Don’t consent to any lab tests at senior centers, health fairs or in your home. Be suspicious of anyone claiming that you’ll pay nothing for genetic tests and cancer screenings.

• Enter your phone number in the Do Not Call Registry. Find it online at donotcall.gov. If you think you’ve been a victim of fraud, Medicare wants to hear from you. Call (800) 633-4227. You can also report suspected fraud by calling (800) 447-8477 or (877) 808-2468 or visiting smpresource.org.

Greg Dill is Medicare’s regional administrator.

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