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A government watchdog plans to launch a nationwide probe into how telemarketers may be getting hold of seniors’ personal Medicare information, a red flag for potential fraud and waste.
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An official with the Health and Human Services inspector general's office told The Associated Press the audit will be announced next week. It would follow a narrower probe which found that an electronic system designed for pharmacies to verify Medicare coverage was being used for searches that appeared to have nothing to do with filling prescriptions. The official spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of a formal announcement.
The watchdog agency's decision comes amid a wave of relentlessly efficient telemarketing scams targeting Medicare recipients and involving everything from back braces to DNA cheek swabs.
For years, seniors have been admonished not to give out their Medicare information to people they don't know. But a report on the initial probe, provided to the AP, details how sensitive details can still get to telemarketers when a Medicare beneficiary thinks he or she is dealing with a trustworthy entity such as a pharmacy or doctor's office.
Key personal details gleaned from Medicare's files can then be cross-referenced with databases of individual phone numbers, allowing marketers to home in with their calls. The report is being released Friday.
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The initial audit focused on 30 pharmacies and other service providers that were frequently pinging a Medicare system created for drugstores.
The electronic system is intended to be used for verifying a senior's eligibility at the sales counter. It can validate coverage and personal details on millions of individuals. Analyzing records that covered 2013-15, investigators discovered that most of the audited pharmacies, along with a software company and a drug compounding service also scrutinized, weren't necessarily filling prescriptions.