This article was updated January 3, 2020.
Have you been offered a free knee brace from Medicare? Beware of this rampant scam that’s been going on. The scammers claim to be from Medicare or a medical warehouse, and some even say they were referred by your doctor or a caregiver. They ask for your Medicare number, and callers are pushy in trying to get your personal information. Some telemarketers will keep calling until they wear you down and you give in to whatever is being offered.
Free back or knee brace? It’s a scam
Whether it’s an “as seen on TV” ad or someone calling you claiming to be from Medicare, these are scams. The best way to get a new knee brace is to meet with a doctor face to face who can get you a properly fitting brace that will help relieve your pain.
It’s understandable to want a quick fix if you or a loved one is in pain, but understand that as soon as you call the number on your TV or tell a caller on the phone that you are in need of a knee brace or back brace, you are opening yourself up to more phone calls and attempts to get your information. Scammers call offering braces as well as other durable medical equipment (DME).
Why back and knee braces?
The reason these fraudsters are hawking back and knee braces is that Medicare will pay for them, as Medicare has not reduced its reimbursement amounts for these durable medical equipment items.
Here’s what happens
The back brace or knee brace that was billed as “free” is not free at all. Later, Medicare will be billed. Medicare gets a bill for the knee, back, or arm braces for thousands of dollars (each brace costs from $1,000 to $2,000), when in reality a back or knee brace costs far less than that.
Since Medicare receives over one billion claims per year, a live person only reviews about three percent of these claims. Medicare signs off on the claims and pays them.
Ads on TV
Abe Wischnia of Elliott.org paused the TV on a recording of an ad offering free back braces from Medicare, and he found a disclaimer in fine print that appeared for just a few seconds. It read as follows:
“By calling in, I confirm that this will serve as my signature authority for COMPANY and their customers to call me on my telephone at the number provided. I am aware of my rights to protect my privacy and these rights are waived for the purpose of COMPANY and their customers to call me. I consent to receive information on products not limited to spinal support braces and/or knee braces on this phone call or subsequent phone calls … I am permitting calls to be automatically dialed. … If I am on a do not call list, by opting in, I am waiving this right.”
You don’t know what you might get
Some callers asked for a back brace and received more than one, or received a back brace and two knee braces, or even more. To make matters worse, these braces are often low-quality and won’t last the 5 years it will take for Medicare to pay for a new one.
In the end, Medicare ends up getting charged for every item the person received. Overall, Medicare fraud costs American taxpayers $60 billion every year. Just on back braces, taxpayers spent nearly $108 million between 2010 and 2016.
How to mitigate Medicare fraud
- Only answer the phone if it’s a caller that you know.
- If you do answer the phone and it’s a solicitor, hang up. If it’s a postcard or email, discard it.
- Turn off or disregard TV ads offering free back or knee braces.
- If you do talk to the solicitor, tell them you’re going to report them for Medicare fraud and you’d like to be removed from their list.
- Never give out your Medicare card number, Social Security number, birth date, bank account info, or credit card number to an unknown party. This goes for over the phone, on email, or on social media.
- Always double check your Medicare statement for errors.
Medicare Fraud Strike Force
The Medicare Fraud Strike Force is composed of several federal agencies, like the Department of Justice, FBI, Office of the Inspector General, and more. Members from these agencies join with local law enforcement to bring the power of the federal agencies to local communities and address cases of Medicare fraud and abuse.
The Medicare Fraud Strike Force handles incidents of Medicare fraud committed through orthotic brace scams, but it also addresses the opioid epidemic by investigating doctors and clinics that are prescribing opioids at dangerous volumes.
How to report Medicare fraud
Medicare fraud is not new, and it doesn’t just happen with back and knee braces. It runs rampant in nursing homes, through telemedicine scams, and within private Medicare Advantage plans. Similar to orthotic brace scams, some untoward providers will document an illness the patient doesn’t have, so the plan or provider will receive a larger reimbursement from Medicare.
If you suspect Medicare fraud, you can report it to the Medicare fraud hotline. For beneficiaries with Original Medicare, call Medicare at 1-800-MEDICARE. TTY users call 1-800-486-2048.
Before you call the Medicare hotline, Medicare requests that you gather the following information to report the fraud:
- Your name and Medicare number
- The provider’s name and any identifying information you may have
- The service or item you’re questioning and when it was supposedly given or delivered
- The payment amount approved and paid by Medicare
- The date on your Medicare Summary Notice or claim
If you suspect Medicare fraud, speak up. When a healthcare practitioner commits Medicare fraud, it raises costs for Medicare beneficiaries and all American taxpayers.