By Dena Vang
As America continues to distribute COVID-19 vaccines, prioritizing and educating the most at-risk populations about vaccines is crucial to tackling the pandemic. COVID-19 has further exposed the racial and ethnic health inequities in the United States. According to a KFF report, people of color, including older adults and others on Medicare, account for disproportionate rates of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. Reaching higher vaccination rates in Black communities will play a key role in mitigating the disproportionate impacts of the virus for people of color and prevent widening racial disparities.
The increased demand for COVID-19 vaccinations in the United States, along with the need to educate various groups and communities about the vaccine, has also created opportunities for fraudulent activity. Scams related to COVID-19 have become increasingly common. Scammers are using telemarketing calls, social media, texts, and door-to-door visits for monetary gain. Seniors and those with a higher risk of serious illness from COVID-19 are being targeted in an attempt to bill Medicare for fraudulent tests and treatments and illegally collect money and Medicare numbers.
The Black Coalition Against COVID-19 (BCAC) is an organization that is keeping African Americans up-to-date on the pandemic. The BCAC has hosted several Facebook Live events to help Black Americans make informed decisions about COVID-19. During the “Making It Plain: A Town Hall on COVID-19 Vaccines for the Dedicated People Working in Aging Services,” Dr. LaShawn McIver, director of the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services Office of Minority Health, addressed the scams related to COVID-19 and how to protect seniors who are more likely to be targets of fraud.
“Medicare covers the vaccine at no cost to you,” Dr. McIver stated, “so if anyone asks you for your Medicare number to get early access to the vaccine, you can bet that that’s a scam. Here’s what you need to know. You can’t pay to put your name on a list to get the vaccine. You can’t pay to get early access to the vaccine.”
Dr. McIver assures us that even before the COVID-19 vaccine was available, Medicare payment rates were established for the vaccine administration so providers can bill Medicare immediately when the COVID-19 vaccines became available.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Department of Health and Humans Services Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG), and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) are urging the public to be aware of potential indicators of fraudulent activity. Common indicators include the following:
- Advertisements or offers for early access to a vaccine upon a deposit payment or fee
- Requests asking an individual to pay out of pocket to obtain a vaccine or to put their name on a COVID-19 vaccine waiting list
- Offers for additional medical testing when obtaining a vaccine
- People offering to sell or ship doses of a vaccine in exchange for a fee
- Unsolicited e-mails or phone calls from someone claiming to be from a medical office, insurance company, or COVID-19 vaccine center to determine eligibility
- Advertisements for vaccines through social media platforms
“We’re asking that people please don’t share your personal or financial information if someone calls, texts, or e-mails you, promising access to the vaccine for a fee,” Dr. McIver said. “We want to be clear; you should take your red, white, and blue Medicare card with you so your insurance can be billed like with other services, but there’s no cost to you. We’ve also heard that some places are charging fees. This should not happen. There should be no money exchanged when someone is going to get their vaccine.”
To protect yourself and your loved ones from COVID-19 scams, remember the following:
- Do not give your personal, medical, or financial information to anyone claiming to offer money or gifts in exchange for your participation in a COVID-19 vaccine survey.
- Be mindful of how you dispose of COVID-19 materials such as syringes, vials, vial container boxes, vaccination record cards, and shipment or tracking records. Improper disposal of these items could be used by bad actors to commit fraud.
- Offers to purchase COVID-19 vaccination cards are scams. Valid proof of COVID-19 vaccination can only be provided to individuals by legitimate providers administering vaccines.
- Photos of COVID-19 vaccination cards should not be shared on social media. Posting content that includes your date of birth, health care details, or other personally identifiable information can be used to steal your identity.
- Be vigilant, and protect yourself from potential fraud concerning COVID-19 vaccines. You will not be asked for money to enhance your ranking for vaccine eligibility. Government and state officials will not call you to obtain personal information in order to receive the vaccine.
- Beneficiaries should be cautious of unsolicited requests for their personal, medical, and financial information. Medicare will not call beneficiaries to offer COVID-19 related products, services, or benefit reviews.
- Be suspicious of any unexpected calls or visitors offering COVID-19 tests or supplies. If you receive a suspicious call, hang up immediately.
- Do not respond to or open hyperlinks in text messages about COVID-19 from unknown individuals.
- Ignore offers or advertisements on social media sites for COVID-19 testing or treatments. If you make an appointment for a COVID-19 test online, make sure the location is an official testing site.
- Do not give your personal or financial information to anyone claiming to offer HHS grants related to COVID-19.
- Be aware of scammers pretending to be COVID-19 contact tracers. Legitimate contact tracers will never ask for your Medicare number or financial information, or attempt to set up a COVID19 test for you and collect payment information for the test.
If you suspect COVID-19 healthcare fraud, report it immediately online, or call 800-HHS-TIPS (800-447- 8477).
For more information about COVID-19 and upcoming events, visit the Black Coalition Against COVID-19, a key health resource for African Americans.
Black Doctor.org, the world’s largest and most comprehensive online health resource, specifically targets African Americans.
For more information about COVID-19 news, head to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website at cdc.gov/coronavirus