Sunday, March 26, 2006

Possible Drug Plan Scam Ensnares Seniors; Some Companies Take Money With Promises of Savings

ABC News
Possible Drug Plan Scam Ensnares Seniors
Some Companies Take Money With Promises of Savings

March 25, 2006 — - Mary Brashear's prescription drugs cost her $800 each month, and she thought Medicare's new prescription drug plan would be her savior.

"It gets your nerves worked up and you get all upset," she said of the cost of her drugs.

So when the Indiana resident got a phone call asking her to sign up for the Medicare plan -- she happily gave her bank account number to a company called Pharma Express of Chaplain, N.Y., which promptly took $299 out of her account.

She never got a discount card.

"It makes you feel pretty bad, especially when you know you ain't got no money to start with," she said.

In Kansas, Mary Williams was fooled by the same line.

"I was really shocked I could do such a stupid thing," she said, "but I did."

Brashear and Williams are among 66 people who have filed similar complaints with the government in the past two months. Mark McClellan, the director of Medicare, believes it's connected to a new scam and fears there may be other scams going on.

"This $299 scam involves an unsolicited call or door-to-door visit to a beneficiary," McClellan said. "These are activities that are prohibited in the Medicare program. … What has happened to Mary is unquestionably a case where we will pursue a further investigation."

Seniors Confused

The government fears con artists in at least six states may be preying on senior citizens who have until May to join the Medicare drug plan -- which critics have charged is confusing and difficult for seniors to navigate. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 51 percent of the 42 million elderly eligible for the program still have not signed up.

The New York State attorney general's office says it has received similar complaints about Pharma Express.

In a statement to ABC News, the company said, "We are an independent company; we have nothing to do with Medicare."

The company said it does provide drug discount cards and offered to return Brashear's money. She said she has not received it.

Avoid Trouble

To prevent scams, Medicare says that seniors need to know …

No one legitimately connected with Medicare can come to your home unsolicited.

Nor can they ask for your bank account number or other payment over the phone.

ABC News' Gigi Stone and Kathleen Hendry reported this story for "World News Tonight."