Category Archives: Uncategorized

Should Seniors Who Lose Their Job During the Coronavirus Pandemic Claim Social Security Benefits Early?

May 22, 2020

In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, unemployment is skyrocketing. Seniors who lose their jobs may be tempted to claim Social Security benefits early, but should they, given the resulting reduction in future benefits? The answer depends on your situation, but you may be able to claim and not sacrifice much in terms of future benefits.

While you can claim Social Security benefits as early as age 62, the better financial decision is usually to wait to take benefits as long as you are able. If you take Social Security between age 62 and your full retirement age, your benefits will be permanently reduced to account for the longer period you will be paid. Individuals who file at age 62 this year will receive 72 percent of their full benefit. On the other hand, if you delay taking retirement beyond your full retirement age, depending on when you were born, your benefit will increase by 6 to 8 percent for every year that you delay, in addition to any cost of living increases. This extra income could be very welcome, especially if you live into your 80s or beyond.

Unfortunately, many seniors who lose their job due to the coronavirus pandemic may find it necessary to apply for benefits early, potentially losing hundreds of thousands in future benefits. Before rushing to apply for early retirement benefits, you should consider all of your options. If you are lucky enough to have substantial savings, it may make sense to spend your savings rather than take benefits early. You may also be able to apply for unemployment benefits to allow you to further delay taking benefits.

If you do not have any savings or unemployment benefits to fall back on, your only option may be to claim benefits. However, if you do claim early and then go back to work, you may have the ability to increase those benefits. If you are able to stop the benefits within 12 months of starting, you can withdraw the application, repay the benefits collected, and then still be eligible for the higher benefit amount at full retirement age or older. It is essentially a one-year interest-free loan.

If you take benefits early but are not able to stop the benefits within 12 months of starting, you can still suspend your benefits in order to earn higher benefits. For example, if you start collecting at age 62 but no longer need the income once you reach your full retirement age, you could suspend benefits until age 70. You won’t get a complete do-over, but between your full retirement age and 70 you would earn delayed retirement credits, which would increase your ultimate benefit amount when you collect at age 70.

Whatever you decide, consider all of your options carefully and talk things over with your attorney or financial planner before making any rash decisions.

For a New York Times article about taking benefits early, click here.

How Your Stimulus Check Affects Medicaid Eligibility

May 22, 2020

The coronavirus relief bill includes a direct payment to most Americans, but this has Medicaid recipients wondering how the payment will affect them. Because the payment is not income, it should not count against a Medicaid recipient’s eligibility.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act provides a one-time direct payment of $1,200 to individuals earning less than $75,000 per year ($150,000 for couples who file jointly), including Social Security beneficiaries. Individuals earning up to $99,000 ($198,000 for joint filers) will receive smaller stimulus checks. Payments are based on either 2018 or 2019 tax returns.

The basic Medicaid rule for nursing home residents is that they must pay all of their income, minus certain deductions, to the nursing home. If the stimulus payment were considered income, it would likely have to go straight to the nursing home. Since in most states Medicaid recipients cannot have more than $2,000 in assets, there was also concern that the stimulus payments could put many recipients over the asset limit.

In a blog post, the commissioner of the Social Security Administration (SSA) has clarified that the SSA will not consider stimulus payments as income for Supplemental Security Insurance (SSI) recipients, and the payments will be excluded from resources for 12 months. Because state Medicaid programs cannot impose eligibility requirements that are stricter than SSI requirements, the payments should not affect Medicaid eligibility.

Is It a Good Idea to Bring Your Parent Home from the Nursing Home During the Coronavirus Pandemic?

May 22, 2020

With the coronavirus pandemic hitting nursing homes and assisted living facilities especially hard, families are wondering whether they should bring their parents or other loved ones home. It is a tough decision with no easy answers.

The number of coronavirus cases in nursing homes and assisted living facilities across the country continues to grow. A Washington state nursing home was one of the first clusters of coronavirus reported in the United States, with at least 37 deaths associated with the facility. NBC news reported on April 16 that coronavirus deaths in long-term care facilities across 29 states had soared to 5,670. “In New Jersey,” NBC added, “the virus has spread to more than 95 percent of the state’s 375 long-term care facilities, according to state health officials.”

In an effort to contain the virus’s spread, most long-term care facilities are limiting or excluding outside visitors, making it hard to check on loved ones. Social activities within the facility may also be cancelled, leading to social isolation for residents. In addition, long-term care facilities face staffing shortages even in the best of times. With the virus affecting staff as well as residents, facilities are having trouble providing needed care. Assisted living facilities, which are not heavily regulated, may have greater trouble containing the virus than nursing homes because their staff is not necessarily medically trained.

With this in mind, many families are considering bringing their loved ones home. A Harvard epidemiologist is warning that nursing homes are not the best place to house the vulnerable elderly at this time. And a local judge in Dallas has recommended that families remove their loved ones from infected facilities. Before taking this extreme step, however, you need to consider the following questions:

  • Is your family able to provide the care that your loved one needs? Some patients require help with eating, dressing, medication, and going to the bathroom. You need to consider whether you can adequately provide that care at home. In addition to your loved one’s practical needs, you need to think about your physical and emotional stamina. Also, is your house set up to safely accommodate your family member? Are there a lot of stairs? Does the bathroom have rails? If your loved one has dementia, there may be other considerations to take into account.
  • How well can you prevent infection? Will you be better able to prevent infection than a nursing home? If your entire household is homebound, you may be in a good position to prevent bringing home the virus. However, if one or more members of your household is working outside of the home, you will have to take extra precautions to make sure you don’t bring the virus to your loved one. Are you taking the necessary precautions to keep your house and yourself disinfected?
  • Will the resident be allowed to return to the facility when the threat of the virus has abated? If you take your family member out of the nursing home or assisted living facility, the facility may not let your family member back in right away. You should check with the facility to determine if your loved one will be able to return.

Bringing a family member home is a hard decision and it depends on the individual circumstances of each family. For more on the considerations involved, click here and here.

What Can You Do to Protect Your Loved One in a Nursing Home During the Pandemic?

April 21, 2020

As the coronavirus spreads across the United States, nursing home residents are among the most vulnerable to the disease. How to try to ensure that your loved one stays healthy?

The first thing you can do is research the nursing home. While you likely made inquiries before your loved one moved in, you may not have gotten into specifics about the facility’s policies for preventing infection. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has a factsheet that covers key questions to ask nursing home officials about their infection prevention policies, including:

How does the facility communicate with family when an outbreak occurs?
Are sick staff members allowed to go home without losing pay or time off?
How are staff trained on hygiene?
Are there private rooms for residents who develop symptoms?
How is shared equipment cleaned?
You can also check on staffing levels. Facilities that are understaffed may have workers who are rushing and not practicing good hand-washing. There are no federal minimum staffing levels for nurses aides, who provide the most day-to-day care, but the federal government recommends a daily minimum standard of 4.1 hours of total nursing time per patient.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the CDC have issued guidance to nursing homes to try to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, including restricting all visitors except in end-of-life situations. You should follow the rules of the facility. If the facility is not limiting or not allowing visitors, do not try to break the rules.

You should check with the facility to make sure it is following the guidance from CMS and the CDC, which includes recommendations to do the following:
• Restrict all visitors, with exceptions for compassionate care
• Restrict all volunteers and nonessential health care personnel
• Cancel all group activities and communal dining
• Begin screening residents and health care personnel for fever and respiratory symptoms
• Put hand sanitizer in every room and common area
• Make facemasks available to people who are coughing
• Have hospital-grade disinfectants available

To read the detailed guidance from the CDC, click here.

The Coronavirus Pandemic Presents Ample Reasons to Reevaluate Your Estate Plan

April 17, 2020

The coronavirus health emergency is a reminder that life is unpredictable, and it makes sense to be prepared. It may sound self-serving, but the threats to life and finances posed posed by the pandemic offer ample reason to reevaluate your estate plan — or create one if you haven’t already.

Experts recommend that you will need to revisit your plan after certain key life events, including changes in health, finances, or family status. Unfortunately, this global health crisis can affect all of those aspects of your life. You should make sure you have these essential documents in place to protect yourself and your family:

  • Medical Directives. A medical directive may encompass a number of different documents, including a health care proxy, a durable power of attorney for health care, a living will, and medical instructions. The exact document or documents will depend on your state’s laws and the choices you make. Both a health care proxy and a durable power of attorney for health care designate someone you choose to make health care decisions for you if you are unable to do so yourself. A living will instructs your health care provider to withdraw life support if you are terminally ill or in a vegetative state. A broader medical directive may include the terms of a living will, but will also provide instructions if you are in a less serious state of health, but are still unable to direct your health care yourself.
  • Power of Attorney. A power of attorney allows a person you appoint — your “attorney-in-fact” — to act in your place for financial purposes when and if you ever become incapacitated. In that case, the person you choose will be able to step in and take care of your financial affairs. Without a durable power of attorney, no one can represent you unless a court appoints a conservator or guardian. That court process takes time, costs money, and the judge may not choose the person you would prefer. In addition, under a guardianship or conservatorship, your representative may have to seek court permission to take planning steps that she could implement immediately under a simple durable power of attorney.
  • Will. A will is a legally-binding statement directing who will receive your property at your death. If you do not have a will, the state will determine how your property is distributed. A will also appoints a legal representative (called an executor or a personal representative) to carry out your wishes. A will is especially important if you have minor children because it allows you to name a guardian for the children. However, a will covers only probate property. Many types of property or forms of ownership pass outside of probate. Jointly-owned property, property in trust, life insurance proceeds and property with a named beneficiary, such as IRAs or 401(k) plans, all pass outside of probate and aren’t covered under a will.
  • Trust. A trust is a legal arrangement through which one person (or an institution, such as a bank or law firm), called a “trustee,” holds legal title to property for another person, called a “beneficiary.” Trusts have one set of beneficiaries during those beneficiaries’ lives and another set — often their children — who begin to benefit only after the first group has died. There are several different reasons for setting up a trust. The most common reason is to avoid probate. If you establish a revocable living trust that terminates when you die, any property in the trust passes immediately to the beneficiaries. This can save time and money for the beneficiaries. Provided they are well-drafted, another advantage of trusts is their continuing effectiveness even if the donor dies or becomes incapacitated.
  • Beneficiary Designations. Although not necessarily a part of your estate plan, at the same time you create an estate plan, you should make sure your retirement plan beneficiary designations are up to date. If you don’t name a beneficiary, the distribution of benefits may be controlled by state or federal law or according to your particular retirement plan. Some plans automatically distribute money to a spouse or children. Although others may leave it to the retirement plan holder’s estate, this could have negative tax consequences. The only way to control where the money goes is to name a beneficiary.

Contact your attorney to make sure your estate plan is complete. Many attorneys are set up to meet with clients remotely, and states are beginning to temporarily relax their rules regarding requirements that documents be notarized in person.

Staying Connected to Family Members in a Nursing Home When Visits are Banned

April 17, 2020

The spread of the coronavirus to nursing home residents has caused the federal government to direct nursing homes to restrict visitor access, and many assisted livingfacilities have done the same. While the move helps the residents stay healthy, it can also lead to social isolation and depression. Families are having to find new ways to stay in touch.

Nursing homes have been hit hard by the coronavirus. The Life Care Center of Kirkland, Washington near Seattle was one of the first clusters of coronavirus in the United States and is one of the deadliest, with at least 35 deaths associated with the facility. In response, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued guidance to all nursing homes, restricting all visitors, except for compassionate care in end-of-life situations; restricting all volunteers and nonessential personnel; and cancelling all group activities and communal dining. While these actions are necessary to prevent the spread of the virus, they can leave families worried and upset and residents feeling isolated and confused.

Families are taking varying tacks to keep in contact with their loved ones, many of whom don’t fully understand why their family is no longer visiting. Nursing homes are also helping to facilitate contact. Some options for keeping in touch, include the following:

  • Phone calls. Phone calls are still an option to be able to talk to your loved one.
  • Window visits. Families who are able to visit their loved one’s window can use that to have in-person visits. You can hold up signs and blow kisses. Talking on a cell phone or typing messages on it and holding them up to the window may be a way to have a conversation.
  • Facetime and Skype. Many nursing homes are facilitating video calls with families using platforms like Facetime or Skype. Some nursing homes have purchased additional iPads, while others have staff members going between rooms with a dedicated iPad to help residents make calls.
  • Cards and letters. Sending cards and letters to your loved ones is another way to show them that you are thinking of them. Some nursing homes have also set up Facebook pages, where people can send messages to residents.

In this unprecedented time, families will need to get creative to stay in touch with their loved ones. For more articles about how families and nursing homes around the country are coping with the new restrictions, click herehere, and here.

Will social security and disability recipients receive a stimulus check?

April 17, 2020

courtesy of NAELAeBulletin:

(CNN) — If you’re a single U.S. resident and your adjusted gross income is $75,000 or less, you will get a $1,200 check from the U.S. government.

The more you earn, the less you will get. You get nothing if you make $99,000 a year or more.

That’s based on the $2 trillion coronavirus outbreak stimulus bill that was signed into law by the president on Friday.

The income levels are based on tax returns for 2019. For those who have not yet filed their taxes this year, it will be based on 2018 returns.

For married couples, you will receive $2,400 if you make a combined $150,000 or less. People making above that will receive a lesser amount on a sliding scale up to people who make $198,000 or more, who will not receive money.

Parents with children who are 16 years old and younger will receive $500 per child. That also phases out for people with higher incomes – single parents who make $109,000 or more and couples making $208,000 or more will get nothing.

If you are on unemployment assistance, you will get another $600 per week on top of the amount your state already pays. That extra amount is available for up to four months.

Gig workers, like Uber drivers and Amazon Flex delivery drivers, are going to be eligible to apply for benefits as well, although it is not yet clear how much they can get.

It has not been determined when the money will be sent to people. President Donald Trump and the treasury secretary have been pushing to get it sent by early April, but estimates based on previous stimulus packages suggest payments may not go out until May.

According to The Washington Post, people on Social Security benefits, including retirees and people on disability assistance, also will get money. They must meet the same income requirements as everyone else.

Payments will be made by direct deposit, based on tax return information, or by check.

Approximately 125 million people will receive a payment, or about 83 percent of tax filers. The Post article also includes a stimulus calculator

Medicare Is Updating Coverage to Help in the Coronavirus Crisis

April 17, 2020

courtesy of NAELAeBulletin:

Older Americans are at a high risk for serious illness from the coronavirus, and most who are over age 65 are covered by Medicare.

Medicare already covers its enrollees for much of what they might need if they contract the virus and become seriously ill — and it has expanded some services and loosened some rules in response to the crisis.

Here’s a look at what enrollees can expect from Medicare, some problems to look out for and some additional changes that advocates think still need to be made.

Tests for the coronavirus ordered by a health care provider who accepts Medicare are covered under Part B (outpatient services). This is the case if you are enrolled in traditional Medicare or Medicare Advantage. Co-pay and deductible amounts for the test have been waived, along with associated services such as physician visits or hospital observation.

Will Medicare cover care for Covid-19, the disease the virus can cause?

Any needed outpatient services will be covered under Part B, and if you require hospitalization, it will be covered under the usual Medicare Part A rules. This includes a deductible of $1,408 for each stay, and daily co-payments if your stay exceeds 60 days. The most popular supplemental insurance policies used in traditional Medicare cover 100 percent of that, but six million enrollees have no supplemental insurance, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

For Medicare Advantage enrollees, the out-of-pocket costs for hospitalizations vary by plan and length of stay. Kaiser research found that for stays of five days or more, at least half of Advantage enrollees would pay more than the deductible paid by traditional Medicare enrollees without supplemental coverage.

What about nursing or long-term care after a hospitalization?

Normally, Medicare covers care in a skilled nursing facility for up to 100 days after a qualifying hospitalization. During this crisis, patients can be covered if they need to be transferred to skilled care to make room at hospitals, or need that care because of the Covid-19 emergency, regardless of whether they were previously hospitalized.

For enrollees in the traditional program, Medicare covers all costs for 20 days, and there is a daily co-pay of $176 after that. The most popular Medigap supplemental plans pick up 100 percent of that additional cost. For Medicare Advantage enrollees, costs vary by plan.

Medicare does not cover long-term stays in long-term care facilities.

Would Medicare cover a Covid-19 vaccine if one became available?

Medicare Part B already covers some vaccines for things like flu. If a vaccine for Covid-19 becomes available, it will be covered under Part B under a provision of the $2 trillion economic stimulus bill, known as the Cares Act. The bill was approved by the Senate Wednesday night, and is expected to be approved by the House and signed by President Trump

Medicare Advantage plans, and many Part D plans, typically require enrollees to use in-network providers, or pay more if they go out of network. But when a state of emergency is declared, things change.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, known as C.M.S., has advised Advantage plans that during the crisis, they must cover services at out-of-network facilities that participate in Medicare and charge enrollees affected by the emergency no more than in-network rates.

Drug plans often require enrollees to use preferred retail or mail-order pharmacy networks. During the crisis, C.M.S. is permitting plans to relax these restrictions — but this is not a requirement, so check with your plan.

This could be an important change for many participants in Part D plans, said Gretchen Jacobson, vice president of Medicare at the Commonwealth Fund, a foundation focused on improving the U.S. health care system.

“If people are self-isolating, you don’t want them to have to travel to get to a network pharmacy if it isn’t the closest, or perhaps they’d want to use a mail-order service,” she said.

C.M.S. has expanded telehealth coverage, which had been tightly restricted. Telehealth will be covered under Part B for all traditional Medicare enrollees during the virus crisis, and services are not limited to Covid-19 care. The definition of telehealth has also been expanded. Previously, patients were required to connect from a health facility, such as an outpatient center, that had approved video conferencing technology; now, patients will be able to connect from home via video on a smartphone or other digital device.

Here is another important change: A requirement that telehealth be provided by a doctor the patient had seen within the last three years has been waived.

“This will be really important if your doctor has been quarantined and you can’t see her, or if you’re healthy and haven’t seen a doctor in the last three years,” Ms. Jacobson said.

Medicare Advantage plans have had more latitude in the past to use telehealth. Check with your plan provider to determine what is available now.

The C.D.C. recommends having a three-month supply of prescription medications on hand during the crisis, but Part D drug plans have typically limited the amounts that can be ordered. Under the Cares Act, plans will be required to issue up to a 90-day supply of covered drugs to enrollees who request it during the emergency period.

People who work past age 65 can delay Medicare enrollment if they have health insurance through their employers without incurring steep penalties for late enrollment in Part B (10 percent lifetime for each 12-month period past the otherwise-mandatory sign-up age of 65).

If you were in this situation and need to sign up for Medicare now because of a job loss, you can take advantage of a special enrollment period that is available to you up to eight months after you lose coverage from employment.

The process is handled through your local Social Security office, but these offices were closed to the public last week to protect the public and employees.

The Medicare Rights Center recommends starting the process by calling your local office to get the application started — you can find it using this local office directory. The field agent there can advise you on which forms, and any supporting documents, you will need to submit and where to mail them. Request a “protected filing date” and proof of receipt from the office. This will create a record that you applied for benefits on that date, which could affect the date your coverage begins.

If you have not previously enrolled in Part A, you’ll need to do that along with Part B. This is also the time to enroll in a Part D prescription drug plan and a Medigap supplemental policy. Or select a Medicare Advantage plan that includes drug coverage.

If your job loss happens to occur around the time you turn 65, the process will be less complex. This is called your Initial Enrollment Period — the three months before, the month of, and the three months after your 65th birthday.

If you already are receiving Social Security, you will receive your Medicare card automatically for Part A and Part B. If you are not on Social Security (more likely, since you’ve been working), you’ll need to sign up. Call Social Security (800-772-1213) or sign up online.

There can be a gap of one to three months before Part A and Part B coverage starts, depending on when you sign up during the initial enrollment period. However, Part A coverage is retroactive up to six months, back to the first month that you were eligible for Medicare.

Sadly, scammers are taking advantage of the Covid-19 crisis to ramp up identity theft and Medicare fraud schemes. The Associated Press reported that scammers were using telemarketing, social media, email and door-to-door visits to market phony tests for the coronavirus and “Senior Care Packages” with hand sanitizer, or even touting nonexistent vaccines.

The government cautions that you should give your Medicare number only to participating Medicare pharmacists, doctors or people you trust to work with Medicare on your behalf. The agency will not call you to ask for your Medicare number or to check on it.

Medicare’s website offers tips for protecting yourself against fraud; the Federal Trade Commission’s website has a page of tips on Covid-19 and scams. And the national network of federally funded Senior Medicare Patrols also can help.

Medicare advocates are proposing further changes that would help expand coverage or ease cost burdens, either during the crisis or permanently.

These include waiving the Part A deductible for people hospitalized for Covid-19 who lack supplemental insurance, and mandating that Part D plans allow enrollees to order extra supplies of prescriptions. Another suggestion: Waive Part B late-enrollment penalties.

“That would be a great thing to do, since signing up has become more complex for people,” said Tricia Neuman, director of the Medicare policy program at Kaiser. “Now, without the ability to go in to see someone at Social Security about it, there could be some real consequences.”

Advocates are also urging Congress to cap the cost of prescription drugs under Part D. In recent years, very high prices of specialty drugs have burdened enrollees — mainly because Part D does not cap the total amounts that enrollees must pay out of pocket each year. Kaiser estimates that this problem affects one million people each year.

Another important change could help a very large group of Americans who have disabilities and are younger than Medicare’s eligibility age of 65. Currently, people who are awarded Social Security Disability Insurance can enroll in Medicare but face a 24-month waiting period before benefits kick in. Advocates propose waiving this requirement; in 2018, 8.2 million Medicare enrollees were younger than age 65, according to CMS data.

The Kaiser Family Foundation’s website has a F.A.Q. page on Medicare and Covid-19. C.M.S. has posted a page of Covid-19 information and resources on its website.

Social Security Administrative field offices are closed to the public for most services during the crisis, but you can connect with the agency by phone or online. If you need help with Medicare enrollment during the crisis, try your State Health Insurance Assistance Program. The nonprofit Medicare Rights Center runs a free national Medicare help line at 800-333-4114; the organization also has a useful website that can answer many questions about coverage.

BREAKING: Groundbreaking decision on ‘observation stays’: Federal court permits right to appeal, opens access to long-term care

April 17, 2020

courtesy of NAELAeBulletin:

A federal appeals court has granted certain hospital patients the right to appeal “observation stay” designations in a ruling that many hope will lead to even greater access to Medicare-covered long-term care services.

The law currently restricts eligibility for Medicare-covered skilled nursing stays to patients who have held inpatient status at a hospital for three nights. On Monday, Judge Michael P. Shea of the U.S. District Court of Hartford, CT, ruled that as a matter of constitutional due process, patients who are initially admitted as inpatients by a physician but whose status is later changed to observation by their hospital have the right to appeal to Medicare to be certified fully as hospital inpatients.

The reference case, Alexander v. Azar, is a nationwide class action lawsuit filed by the Center for Medicare Advocacy that went to trial in August 2019.

The rules previously have “forced many Medicare beneficiaries to either pay thousands of dollars out of pocket for that care or to forgo the needed care altogether,” the Centers for Medicare Advocacy said in a release announcing the court’s decision. “While people with Medicare can appeal virtually any issue affecting their coverage, the Centers for Medicare &  Medicaid Services has blocked attempts by beneficiaries to appeal their hospital status.”

LeadingAge President and CEO Katie Smith Sloan was unequivocal in her praise for the decision.

“We are very pleased with this ruling,” she said in a statement to McKnight’s Long-Term Care News. “We believe that, ultimately, the law needs to change so that the restrictions on Medicare eligibility because of observation status should be repealed, however, and will continue advocating for passage of legislation that counts all nights in the hospital toward the required three-day stay.

“Ironically, CMS has lifted the three-day requirement underlying this issue during the current crisis,” she added. “[We] hope this means that the agency will support eliminating these restrictions once the pandemic is lifted.”

Feds: Virus frauds spread, preying on Medicare recipients

April 17, 2020

courtesy of NAELAeBulletin:

WASHINGTON (AP) — Scam artists are preying on older people’s fears by peddling fake tests for the coronavirus to Medicare recipients, a federal law enforcement agency warned on Monday.

And moving separately on another law enforcement priority, President Donald Trump signed an order directing a crackdown on large-scale hoarding that’s intended to create shortages of critical goods and drive prices up.

Alerting seniors to fraud, the Health and Human Services inspector general’s office said it has seen marketing schemes rapidly pivot to offering tests for COVID-19 and “Senior Care Packages” with hand sanitizer or even tout a vaccine, which doesn’t exist. Some marketers falsely claim that Trump has ordered that seniors get tested.

It’s all a trick to get personal information that can be used to bill federal and state health programs, said Christian Schrank, assistant inspector general for investigations.

“It’s a straight-up ruse to get your Medicare number or your Social Security number under the guise of having a test kit or a sanitary kit sent to you,” Schrank said. Often the caller will hang up as soon as that number is provided.

Low-income Medicaid recipients also are being targeted.

The sales pitches are coming via telemarketing calls, robocalls, social media posts, emails and door-to-door visits, Schrank explained.

As legitimate businesses close their doors and send workers home to comply with social distancing measures, fraud operators have ramped up recruiting for their call centers, Schrank said.

For seniors, the consequences can be long term. Health care fraud is one of the most prevalent forms of identity theft.

Once a person’s Medicare information is in the hands of fraudsters, it can be used repeatedly to bill for unwanted goods and services. That can create problems if a Medicare enrollee ever does need them.

Among the schemes reported to authorities:

— In Florida, seniors have been contacted by fraudsters claiming that Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have mandated they get tested and that their Medicare number is required.

— A scheme in the Midwest offers a “Senior Care Package” that includes hand sanitizer. “As we know, it’s very difficult for beneficiaries to get out to the store,” Schrank said. “At this time when seniors are searching for answers, these individuals are preying on their desire to speak with somebody.”

— Several online operations are offering coronavirus vaccines, when none has been developed and approved. At the White House press conference Monday, Trump said federal authorities had already shut down a website selling “a totally fake vaccine.” Schrank said, “The first time you hear about a vaccine, it’s not going to be through an email or a telemarketing call.”

Federal and state law enforcement officials have set up a working group to share information on the quickly evolving scams and route leads to the agencies best equipped to investigate. The phone number for the HHS inspector general’s hotline is 800-HHS-TIPS, and the National Center for Disaster Fraud hotline is at 866-720-5721.

Anti-fraud experts say seniors should just hang up on unsolicited sales calls.

Following Trump to the White House briefing room podium, Attorney General William Barr said the crackdown on hoarding will target excessive stockpiling of personal protective equipment that is needed by medical personnel.

“If you have a big supply of toilet paper in your house, this is not something you have to worry about,” said Barr.

The Justice Department has already launched investigations into people who are hoarding supplies and price gouging, said Barr. Investigators will go after people who are “hoarding these goods on an industrial scale for the purpose of manipulating the market.”

Barr says the executive order allowed the president to designate some items as “scarce” and prohibits people from stockpiling the much-needed supplies.

“If you are sitting on a warehouse with surgical masks, you will be hearing a knock on your door,” Barr said.

Barr said no specific items have been identified yet and the Justice Department will work with Health and Human Services to enforce the president’s order.

For most people, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. Worldwide, more than 375,000 cases have been reported, and while most people recover in weeks, more than 16,000 people have died.

Associated Press writer Michael Balsamo contributed to this report.