Cabinet Agency Issues Medicare Telemarketing Warning

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The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has warned medical-equipment marketers that unsolicited telemarketing of "durable" items covered by Medicare to Medicare beneficiaries is prohibited.

According to a statement from the department's Office of Inspector General, medical-equipment marketers have been using outbound telemarketing service providers to try to circumvent the prohibition. Durable medical equipment includes reusable items such as walkers, wheelchairs and hospital beds.

"Suppliers cannot do indirectly that which they are prohibited from doing directly," according to the statement.

A spokesman for the inspector general's office said the office would not comment further on the statement, though he did say new reports of violations prompted the warning.

"It's something we've addressed in the past," the spokesman said. "It's being addressed again because of concerns about violations."

Medical-equipment suppliers are responsible for ensuring that activities of the agencies conducting telemarketing on their behalf comply with federal regulations, the department said in a statement. Both the supplier and telemarketing agency could be held liable for criminal, civil and administrative penalties if a claim for payment under Medicare is found to have been generated by a prohibited telemarketing call, the statement said.

Exceptions to the prohibition include calls to consumers who gave the supplier written permission to call, calls concerning the sale of items covered by Medicare that the supplier already has furnished to the consumer, and calls to consumers to whom suppliers have furnished covered items in the past 15 months.

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