- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 16, 2009

Medicare problems

A man who helps senior citizens fight off collection agencies that are wrongly pursuing unpaid bills wants the government to fix existing problems with Medicare billing before adding more people to government-run health care programs.

Proposals being considered by Congress to overhaul the health care system include a massive expansion of Medicaid, which is targeted to low-income Americans. Both Medicare and Medicaid are under government control, the primary difference being that Medicaid is geared toward the poor and is administered by the states with federal mandates. Medicare, on the other hand, is for the elderly and completely controlled by the federal government.

Woodrow Wilcox, who works with elderly clients at the Senior Care Insurance Services in Merrillville, Ind., says Washington shouldn’t be tinkering with health care at all until it finds a way to stop going after seniors for bills they don’t owe under Medicare.

“There are too many problems with Medicare not communicating to insurance companies correctly for the claims to be paid,” he said. He estimates that, on average, he saves his clients $450 a day by correcting billing errors. Some people may be charged as little as $20 more than they should be billed and he’s fought errors as high as $9,000 for a client in the past.

Mr. Wilcox says miscommunications between the two entities often result in a collection agency being brought in by Medicare to intimidate seniors into paying bills that they don’t owe and that it’s difficult to navigate the paper work needed to prove their case. But sometimes they get caught up between other government agencies. He cited a case he’s working on now with a veteran who paid his bill to Medicare and has the cashed check to prove it, but is getting letters from the Department of Treasury saying his Social Security checks may soon be garnished as a result.

“Somebody just didn’t record the check even though it went through,” Mr. Wilcox exclaimed. “Senior citizens are seriously being badgered.”

Sometimes it’s easier for seniors to just pay the bill instead of getting help, too.

“They’re being soaked for things they don’t owe, but often they don’t know how to read the forms or what little piece might be missing so they just end up paying the bill,” he said. “But why should they?”

Mr. Wilcox has been keeping a record of the money he’s saved seniors in Medicare bills at www.medicareproblems.net as well as his concerns with the existing system.

Good for the goose

Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma called bluff on the Democrats’ support for their own health care bill by challenging his colleagues on the Senate health committee to vote in favor of joining the program once enacted.

Mr. Coburn said, “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander,” and that “if Congress thinks a government-run plan is safe and effective for Americans, they should prove it with enrolling.”

All the Republicans on the committee, except for New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg, voted for the amendment, but only three of the panel’s 13 Democratic caucus member joined them. The 10 others voted “nay,” though the amendment thus passed by a 12-11 vote.

Story Continues →