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Beware of free gene tests that require Medicare numbers

The Maui News

The state Office of the Inspector General issued a “fraud alert” Monday for companies offering free genetic testing and requesting Medicare numbers.

There can be confusion regarding Medicare’s coverage for genetic tests for cancer and other conditions, which is why the inspector general is issuing the alert, the state Office on Aging said.

These tests also are referred to as DNA screenings, cancer screenings and hereditary testing. The representatives go to senior centers, senior housing, health fairs and parking lots to convince people to let them take a cheek swab for testing. They advertise on TV and online.

They promise that the results will help recipients avoid diseases or find the right medications. All they ask for in return is the person’s Medicare number, the Office on Aging said.

“These companies can steal people’s medical identity and falsely bill Medicare, draining the system of needed funds,” said Senior Medicare Patrol Hawaii Program Manager Kaipo Cullen. “Tests ordered under these circumstances are unnecessary and could lead to confusion about someone’s health condition.”

The alert says that only a physician should approve any requests for genetic testing. In fact, federal regulations say that diagnostic tests must be ordered by the person’s own doctor.

“A doctor who has never met or examined a patient, often hired by a genetic testing company, should not be signing off on any tests. That’s a red flag,” said Cullen.

The Senior Medicare Patrol recommends that Medicare beneficiaries:

• Refuse to give out their personal information or accept screening services, including a cheek swab, from someone at a community event, a local fair, a farmer’s market, a parking lot or any other large event.

• Go to their own doctor to assess their condition, not a doctor on the phone they’ve never met from a company they don’t know.

• Always read their Medicare Summary Notice or Explanation of Benefits. The words “gene analysis” or “molecular pathology” as service codes may indicate questionable genetic testing.

• Refuse the delivery of any genetic testing kit that was not ordered by their physician.

• Be suspicious of anyone who offers free genetic testing and then requests their Medicare number. If their personal information is compromised, it may be used in other fraud schemes.

• Contact their local Senior Medicare Patrol for help. The Senior Medicare Patrol empowers and assists Medicare beneficiaries, their families, and caregivers to prevent, detect, and report health care fraud, errors and abuse.

To contact Senior Medicare Patrol Hawai’i, call toll free at (800) 296-9422.