Group urges public safety, awareness amid COVID-19 scams


Nugesse Ghebrendrias/The Madera Tribune

California Senior Medical Patrol liaison Claire Pisching puts together a packet of information at the Valley Caregiver Resource Center office in Fresno.

 

“We are the voice of Seniors. We stand up for them..” — Claire Pisching


The COVID-19 pandemic has changed all aspects of life.


Seeing family has become non-existent for many. Enjoying the simple things, like eating indoors or going to the movies, is now forbidden. But one thing that seemingly hasn’t changed is the constant threat of scams aimed at elder citizens.


In the form of false COVID-19 vaccine access and Medicare fraud, senior citizens, both in Madera and Fresno counties, are susceptible.


The public should be aware of various potential indicators of COVID-19 fraud, including requests asking you to pay out of pocket to obtain the vaccine or to put your name on a COVID-19 vaccine waiting list and individuals contacting you in person, by phone, or by email to tell you the government or government officials require you to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.


Fortunately for Maderans, the Health Insurance Counseling and Advocacy Program (HICAP) at VCRC is there to not only help with COVID-19 related scams, but also advocate for Medicare beneficiaries across the county of Madera and Fresno.


HICAP staff are trained, experienced counselors who are registered with the California Department of Aging.


“To hear the relief in their voices, to know that there is a place to call and receive help when everything seems to be closed is huge,” HICAP Program Manager Jennifer Webb said. “It goes really far right now.”


Tips include consulting your state’s health department website for up-to-date information about authorized vaccine distribution channels and only obtaining a vaccine through such channels, check the FDA’s website (fda.gov) for current information about vaccine emergency use authorizations or consult your primary care physician before undergoing any vaccination.


With the help of California Senior Medical Patrol’s (SMP) liaison Claire Pisching, the President’s Volunteer Service Award winner, given by the President of the United States Barack Obama for her work and advocacy within her community, seniors have an advocate.


“We work diligently with SMP liaisons,” Webb said. “They receive cases that come in and they express any concerns of Medicare fraud. Right now, the fraud rates are growing due to the COVID-19 pandemic and of course the COVID-19 vaccine scams.


“We receive constant calls that people are hearing from insurance brokers and medical professionals that get can these unsuspecting people to think they can on early lists and get the vaccine for a fee.”


That information is relayed through Webb and her HICAP office staff (Mayra Guerrero, Jean Kendrick and Laura Robinson) to the SMP liaisons who investigate the case. The national number for the SMP is 877-808-2468 and can be reached online at SMPresource.org.


Pisching gathers the information (letters, call logs, etc.) and sends that to Sacramento where decisions are made in terms of how the case is handled. Pisching’s long service in the field shows as she has seen many fraud cases.


“One patient was getting billed from hospice and we contacted her social worker and asked what happened. We learned she was never admitted into hospice as her Medicare didn’t cover it,” Pisching said. “We gathered all the information we sent it off to Sacramento.”


Pisching later learned that this individual was put into hospice in a different state.


“We learned it was in Glendale in California,” she said. “She had never even been there.”


Everything was put on hold and a new Medicare card was created and sent to the victim. With the help of Pisching and her colleagues, the scam was caught.


But scams can come in various forms, including your phone.


“When someone calls and asks who’s calling, you never say ‘yes’,” Pisching said. “What they’ll do is record your voice and they’ll send you all kinds of stuff that you don’t want and it becomes a hassle to get out of it.”


With the help of Webb and her staff at HICAP, including President’s Volunteer Service Award winner Pisching, Madera community members have a place to turn to.