SOURCE: Department of Economic Security

Department of Economic Security Department of Economic Security

September 26, 2013 13:47 ET

Arizona Seeks Seniors to Battle Medicare Fraud

Confusion Around Obamacare Presents Opportunity for Scam Artists

PHOENIX, AZ--(Marketwired - Sep 26, 2013) - Confusion around Obamacare and the Affordable Care Act is creating a golden opportunity for scam artists who are always looking for new ways to prey on our state's vulnerable senior population. To help fight this battle, Arizona is ramping up its efforts to recruit seniors who will serve as volunteers for the statewide Senior Medicare Patrol (SMP) project. Arizona's SMP project is part of a nationwide Administration on Aging (AoA) initiative that enlists retired and semi retired senior volunteers to combat Medicare fraud by educating and counseling beneficiaries to be alert and aware of scam activity.

"There are no exact figures on the cost of health care fraud in the United States, but annual losses are billions of dollars each year by all estimates," said Patricia Gonzalez-Emblem, SMP director for the Arizona Department of Economic Security's Division of Aging and Adult Services. "Medicare fraud comprises a significant portion of the dollars lost because seniors are such a vulnerable target for scams." 

Through education and outreach, Arizona's SMP volunteers help Medicare are helping to crack down on scam artists, doctors, medical equipment suppliers, hospitals, prescription drug companies and others who seek to profit by preying on our state's vulnerable senior population.

SMP volunteers receive a 30-hour training that covers the patrol's mission, Medicare basics and how to recognize Medicare fraud and abuse and what to do about it. After completing the training, they are well equipped to disseminate information to Medicare beneficiaries, family members, caregivers, social service professionals and others within their local communities. SMP volunteers are then matched with opportunities that meet their skills and areas of interest, whether it's conducting outreach through group presentations, exhibiting at community events, answering calls to the SMP help lines, or one-on-one counseling.

"Face-to-face interaction is the most effective way to reach seniors with this information, which is why we need volunteers in communities throughout Arizona," said Gonzalez-Emblem, SMP director for the Arizona Department of Economic Security's Division of Aging and Adult Services (DES / DAAS). "Hispanic seniors are particularly vulnerable and comprise a sizeable percentage of our state's population, making bilingual volunteers vitally important to our recruitment process."

Arizona currently has 120 volunteers conducting statewide outreach, however many more are needed to keep up with our state's ever growing senior population.

Protect, Detect, Report is the mantra SMP senior volunteers teach to help Medicare beneficiaries proactively protect themselves against fraudulent, wasteful and unethical healthcare practices. Through one-on-one counseling, SMP volunteers teach beneficiaries skills that will help prevent fraud and abuse from occurring in the first place, such as: how to treat their Medicare number as they would their credit cards; how to use a journal to track medical services and healthcare instructions; how to read their Medicare benefits statements; and how to get answers to billing questions.

Nearly 4,500 SMP volunteers are recruited and trained every year to provide outreach and education in every state and many U.S. territories. Since the SMP project was initiated in 1997, more than 27 million people have been reached through community presentations, more than 5 million beneficiaries have been educated, and more than 30,000 volunteers have been active. The program is attributed with saving taxpayers, Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries $106 million.

For more information about Arizona's SMP volunteer project, call (602) 542-6439 or visit www.azdes.gov/daas/ship/ferretoutfraud. If you suspect Medicare fraud, call the statewide toll-free number 1-800-432-4040.

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