'A lot of money to be made': Officials say Medicare scammers are on the prowl

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As hundreds of thousands of Minnesota seniors look for new Medicare coverage, state insurance regulators are investigating potentially misleading advertising solicitations. The Minnesota Commerce Department is also warning older consumers to be wary of scams during the open enrollment period now underway.

A change in federal law is ending Medicare Cost plans in most Minnesota counties. That's forcing nearly 400,000 Minnesotans to find new coverage, said Kelli Jo Greiner with the state Board on Aging.

"There's a lot of money to be made in Minnesota this year," Greiner said. "We have more Cost plan enrollees in Minnesota than any other state." She adds that there are more insurers and agents selling Medicare coverage in Minnesota than ever before.

"With that you see the susceptibility to illegal — or marketing practices that are not necessarily what they should be."

Greiner said the board's Senior LinkAge line is receiving more calls than usual about sales pitches and there have been reports of high-pressure sales tactics targeting vulnerable elderly residents. She said some say they're getting unsolicited sales calls.

"Direct calls — unless the beneficiary has said they want that call — cannot be initiated by the company and we're seeing that's happening in Minnesota," Greiner said.

The Commerce Department is warning seniors to be alert to the difference between the official Medicare website, Medicare.gov, and non-government sites such as Medicare.com, or Medicare.net.

Consumers who want to get out of a plan they've signed up for have until December 7, the end of open enrollment, to make a switch. For beneficiaries replacing a Cost plan, the deadline for a change is not until February 23, Greiner said.

She said the end of the Cost plans and the intense selling activity have left a lot of Medicare enrollees frustrated.

She urges people with questions about Medicare enrollment to call the state's Senior LinkAge line at 1-800-333-2433.

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