To Swab or Not to Swab

A seemingly legitimate free offer to see if a Medicare beneficiary or their children might have a genetic disposition to cancer is most likely a scam.

Hello, senior citizens. Remember that free cheek swab for genetic testing or cancer screening you were offered at a community event, your pharmacy or big-box store? It most likely was a scam targeted at stealing your Medicare number.

According to special agents with the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Inspector General, and representatives of Serving Health Insurance Needs of Elders (SHINE), the tests are marketed as a free cheek swab to screen for hereditary cancer, DNA, Alzheimer’s, dementia, heart disease, gene mutations and genetic markers. They may also be promoted as a form of cancer genomic tests (CGx) and pharmacogenetic (PGx) testing. However, the offer most often is a scam to access someone’s Medicare identity. Those who participate might never receive any results and could find themselves on the hook for the costs.

The fraud occurs when Medicare is billed for a test or screening (from that free cheek swab) that was not medically necessary and/or was not ordered by the beneficiary’s primary care physician.

Special Agents Derek Maloney and Jason Lanfersiek, and Kristina Young, the SHINE Outreach and Education Specialist with Elder Options, said during a recent presentation in The Villages that they are receiving increasingly high reports of this scam and expect the numbers to grow.

They said people might run into the “free” offer at senior centers, chain stores, farmers markets, festivals, expos or even retail business parking lots.

“Nurses and doctors may be on site and promise results,” Young notes. “They can’t complete the scam without your Medicare number, but if they get that number they can submit for testing.”

SHINE materials explain that if Medicare denies the genetic test claims, the beneficiary could be responsible for the cost of the test, which averages between $9,000 and $11,000.

Anyone who has received a cheek swab or a screening that was not medically necessary can report it by contacting SHINE’s Senior Medicare Patrol program at (800) 963-5337 or by going to www.floridashine.org.

SHINE is a free program offered by the Florida Department of Elder Affairs and our Area Agency on Aging, known as Elder Options. Assistance is offered monthly in various locations in Marion County.

To learn more, call 1-800-96-ELDER or visit www.floridashine.org/Counseling-Sites/Marion.aspx.

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