DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Senior citizens at Lanakila Senior Center listen to Pamela Cunningham, specialist in the Executive Office on Aging of the state Health Department, discuss fraud problems caused by telephone scams. The schemes include getting personal identification information by pretending to be with the Social Security agency, Medicare or a health insurance company.
Elders get ID theft alert
Isle seniors are warned not to disclose any personal identification to anyone who calls claiming to be from Social Security, Medicare or a health insurance plan.
For more information or help with Medicare prescription drug plans, call:
» Sage PLUS, 586-7299 on Oahu or (888) 875-9229 toll-free from the neighbor islands.
» Medicare toll-free hot line, (800) 633-4227 or TTY 877-486-2408.
» Visit the Medicare Web site, www.medicare.gov.
Residents 65 and older are especially vulnerable to telephone or door-to-door scams with open enrollment starting for Medicare's Part D prescription drug program, said Pamela Cunningham, coordinator of Sage Plus, the health information arm of the Executive Office on Aging.
Cunningham and Suzie Anderson of the Social Security Administration urged about 200 seniors at a meeting yesterday at the Lanakila Senior Center to "just say no" to anyone asking for identifying information.
Medicare, Social Security, the Hawaii Medical Service Association and other insurance plans don't ask personal questions over the telephone, Cunningham said.
"If we call you, we already know your Social Security number," pointed out Anderson, area work incentives coordinator, Honolulu/Kapolei District.
The Social Security office began getting calls three months ago from people saying someone with a foreign accent was calling and asking for Social Security numbers and drug plan information, she said.
Officials are asking seniors to try to get the caller's name and phone number and call the Social Security Administration so it can be reported to the Office of Inspector General.
The warning came along with other advice yesterday for seniors who might get confused because of changes in the Medicare Part D program, officials say.
Many more plans and options are being offered in Hawaii, according to Cunningham.
The number of stand-alone plans has grown to 49 from 36 last year, she said. Medicare Advantage plans also have expanded options to about 40 from 18.
Cunningham advised seniors to look plans over carefully, even if they're happy with the one they have, because they might find a better deal.
Premiums, deductibles and coverage features vary, she said. "There are so many different plans for different people."
Some even cover the so-called "donut hole," a coverage gap that occurs after $2,250 in drug costs, she said. At that point, the person pays all costs up to $5,100 when catastrophic coverage begins, then they pay only 5 percent.
An estimated 1,398 islanders who qualify for extra assistance haven't enrolled in the program, Cunningham said.
This extra help is available for people with less than $17,625 in gross annual income ($23,625 for a couple) and less than $11,710 in assets ($23,410 for a couple), Anderson said. Medicare could pay some or all of the monthly premium, deductible and most of the prescription cost for this group, she said.
Eligible residents who haven't signed up for any prescription drug plan or have one they don't like can enroll, change or drop their plan between Nov. 15 and Dec. 31.
They should not wait until the last minute if they want to begin getting the benefits in January, Cunningham said. Sage PLUS and Medicare both offer help in reviewing plans.
Any Medicare recipient, including disabled Social Security beneficiaries under age 65, is eligible for Part D prescription drug coverage if they don't have a better plan through a company, union, or government entity.
Seniors who don't take any medicine and think they don't need a drug plan should at least get minimum coverage in case of an accident or serious illness, Cunningham said. The next sign-up period won't be until November 2009, she pointed out.