You’ve probably heard the saying: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. You’ll save yourself a lot of trouble if you apply that adage to your healthcare decisions, from choosing a doctor to buying healthcare items over the Internet.
Americans spend billions of dollars each year on bogus miracle cures and wonder drugs. These hopeful Americans are the victims of healthcare fraud, and according to a government study, most of them are older than 65. Victims of such scams are left with empty pocketbooks and unresolved health issues. You can protect yourself from health scams by avoiding these five common traps.
1.Healthcare quackery. Quacks are people who hawk unproven remedies or try to bilk you by providing services you don’t need. Believe it or not, some doctors can be quacks. Although most healthcare providers are honest, beware of the signs of the snake-oil salesmen of healthcare. The U.S. Administration on Aging says a red flag should be raised when healthcare providers say or do the following:
- They tell you the test is free as long as you provide your Medicare number. Never give your Medicare number to anyone for “free” services. If a service is free, then no Medicare number is needed to receive it. As a rule, don’t give your Medicare/Medicaid or Social Security number to people you don’t know or to anyone over the telephone.
- They try to convince you that Medicare wants you to have the service. Medicare is an insurance provider, not a physician who knows what your body needs.
- They say that the more tests you receive, the less they’ll cost.
- They know how to “get Medicare to pay” for the service.
- They frequently waive co-payments without checking on your ability to pay for healthcare services.
- They advertise “free” consultations to Medicare beneficiaries.
- They use pressure or scare tactics to sell you high-priced medical tests or services.
- They bill your insurance for services you don’t remember receiving. Keep a record of your health screenings, tests and services to avoid fraudulent bills.
- They promise to cure a chronic or fatal disease.
- They offer free gifts or special promotions for their services.
3. Online-purchase cons. Buying prescription drugs or diagnostic tests from the Internet may seem to be a cheap and easy alternative to purchasing medications at your pharmacy, but doing so isn’t always safe. Illegal Web sites could sell counterfeit or contaminated products. The Food and Drug Administration suggests you check with the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (www.nabp.net or 847-391-4406) to learn whether a Web site is a licensed pharmacy.
4. Wonder-drug rip-offs. If a drug or supplement is touted as a cure-all, a scientific breakthrough, miraculous, exclusive or containing a secret ingredient, then buyer beware! Also, if the sales pitch includes money-back guarantees, limited product availability, advance-payment requirements or undocumented testimonials from so-called patients, don’t purchase the item or service. If a drug or service is effective and safe, your doctor will know about it.
5. Untrustworthy information. The Internet offers a world of information at your fingertips, but not all of it is reliable and trustworthy. In fact, a study of 433 health-related Web sites revealed most contained misleading or unproven health claims. Make sure the Web site has been recently updated and is sponsored by a major, credible medical center, national organization, university or government agency. Looking for credible books and magazines? Just ask your doctor or librarian.
Healthcare scams can be dangerous to your health, not just your budget. If you feel uncomfortable or suspicious about a healthcare service, provider or product, trust your instincts.