Doctors advertising free medical services or phone calls promising health benefits seem harmless enough, but Patricia Macholl, a volunteer fighting Medicare fraud schemes targeting seniors, knows better.
Macholl, a retired research director at a local TV station, volunteers with the California Senior Medicare Patrol to educate seniors about the fraud that diverts billions of dollars of Medicare funds at the American taxpayer’s expense.
“It makes me mad as a taxpayer to hear about fraud,” Macholl says. Senior Medicare Patrol was founded in 1997 in multiple states after it was realized Medicare beneficiary billing statements could hold evidence of fraud.
Macholl serves as a Medicare counselor and is known for her engaging presentations in the community, reaching 100 to 200 seniors in attendance each time. Macholl volunteers 10-20 hours each week to empower seniors, their families and caregivers by teaching them to protect themselves against Medicare fraud, medical identity theft and financial fraud.
“Convincing people to read the fine print from Medicare and their providers is tough, Macholl says. “People want to trust and then something comes along that breaks that trust, but you have to be skeptical and tough.” Macholl singled out Medicare phone scams as an example, explaining many people do not realize Medicare does not make phone calls in the to initiate contact with beneficiaries.
Macholl didn’t qualify for Medicare upon retirement, but was a witness to the struggles beneficiaries face when her friend was attempting to sign up for Medicare without reading the fine print or fully understanding how it works. According to Macholl, sometimes a Medicare bill could have an error, which could be an honest mistake, but it’s important to check everything and never hesitate to call for help.
“I read a newspaper article about volunteering with a health insurance counseling program and I thought, ‘I can read’,” Macholl recalls. “I could learn it myself and then help others.”
Macholl sympathizes with others like her friend who do not know how Medicare works. The sobering truth is that there are many Americans like Macholl’s friend, unaware they are being victimized.
“What your mother told you was right,” Macholl says. “There’s no such thing as a free lunch. If it sounds too good to be true, it is.”
It is estimated that 10 percent of Medicare’s yearly spending is being diverted nationwide by fraud. That equates to $58 billion of last year’s total Medicare spending.
But work like Macholl’s is forging a path for anti-fraud efforts. In 2013, $2.86 billion Medicare dollars were recovered nationally through antifraud efforts. Macholl encourages others to find a cause that motivates them to volunteer.
“Pick something that fits your skills and keeps you involved and go do it,” Macholl says. “If there is something that engages you emotionally, you know you are picking something worthwhile.”