Can Doctors Help Prevent Financial Abuse?

In the Examination Room, an Effort to Prevent Financial Abuse
Can doctors and other medical professionals be trained to spot elderly patients who are at risk of being ripped off?

A consortium of regulators, educators and advocates is hoping the answer is “yes, with a little help from us.” On Wednesday, the group announced a program aimed at training thousands of medical professionals to screen older patients for financial vulnerability, watch for signs that they are being exploited and refer them to appropriate sources of help.

The initiative’s sponsors say that mild mental impairment, a problem that affects more than a third of all people over 71, can lead the elderly into debt or destitution before anyone realizes they are fumbling their personal finances. Indeed, research shows that fogginess about money matters can be an early warning sign of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

The new program aims to develop continuing medical education classes that will train health care professionals to quickly recognize the signs of financial confusion before a patient has fallen victim to fraud or incurred ruinous debts.

The effort is a collaboration among the North American Securities Administrators Association, made up of state securities regulators; the Investor Protection Trust and the Investor Protection Institute, nonprofit organizations focusing on investor education; and the National Adult Protective Services Association, which supports the efforts of social workers who deal with abuse cases among elderly and young adults.

But it has the support of a handful of important national medical associations, including the American Academy of Family Physicians and the American Geriatrics Society. According to Robert E. Roush, faculty associate at the Huffington Center on Aging at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, a pilot project in Texas produced a solid increase in the number of doctors who used training information to refer patients for more extensive testing of their financial acuity.

Read more here at The New Old Age blog.

Volunteer Program Targets Medicare Fraud

Thanks to Aging Service Council newsletter for this article.

A few older adults are milling around outside a senior center. Someone approaches them and offers to arrange to purchase scooters for them through Medicare. Because they’ll need physicals before being approved for the scooters-and they’ll need a ride-the person offers to drive them as a group to see a doctor, all for free. After a brief check of their vital signs, the seniors go home. And wait. Sometimes the scooter never arrives, but the Medicare statement does; sometimes a cheap scooter shows up, but Medicare is paying for a really nice one. And someone else, the thief who billed Medicare, pocketed the difference.

The double-whammy here is that these seniors have given out their Medicare ID number, so they risk getting a statement for other services they didn’t request and having their identity stolen.

This is one of dozens of scenarios in the world of Medicare fraud. Considering that Medicare provides health insurance to around 44 million elderly and disabled beneficiaries, it’s a daunting task to alert seniors about what’s happening and how to prevent it.

But that’s just what thousands of SMPs are doing. SMPs are senior volunteers-4,685 in 2008-around the country who are working to educate their peers on how to avoid, detect, and prevent fraud, waste, and abuse that occur all too frequently in the Medicare and Medicaid programs. SMPs give presentations in the community, exhibit at events such as health fairs, answer calls to the SMP help lines, and do one-on-one counseling. They teach beneficiaries how to protect their personal identity, identify and report errors on their health care bills, and recognize deceptive practices. When fraud is discovered, SMPs refer it to the next level of investigators.

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