updated 10/7/2005 4:57:28 PM ET 2005-10-07T20:57:28

Possible scams to take advantage of senior citizens are cropping up as enrollment nears for Medicare’s new drug program, and eight companies have signed contracts to help detect fraud, officials said Friday.

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Private companies began soliciting senior citizens and the disabled last weekend in efforts to enroll some 43 million of them into insurance plans offering the drug benefit. Mark McClellan, administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said there have already been a few cases in which officials suspect that scam artists were trying to take advantage.

“Because we’re being vigilant, they have not been widespread and we’ve had the matters referred to local law enforcement,” McClellan said.

McClellan said the contractors would analyze data that could indicate patterns of fraud or abuse, and they would investigate suspicious activities surrounding the enrollment of beneficiaries into drug plans. The contracts were not for a set amount, but CMS expects to pay about $75 million over five years, officials said.

Enrollment for the benefit begins Nov. 15, and the benefit itself kicks in on Jan. 1.

There is no single Medicare drug plan. Instead, private insurers will offer an array of coverage options. Customers will pay some of the costs through premiums and copays. The government also subsidizes some of the costs.

The tab for the federal government for the program’s first 10 years is estimated at $724 billion.

CMS offered advice for senior citizens about what they should keep in mind when they are solicited. The tips include:

  • No one trying to enroll you in a plan can come to your door uninvited.
  • No one can ask you to enroll before Nov. 15.
  • No one can ask you for personal information during marketing activities.
  • Never give out personal information until you are certain that the person or product is approved by Medicare.
  • If you have a question or a concern about activity, call 1-800-MEDICARE.

People who suspect fraud can also call their local law enforcement agency or contact the Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General at 1-800-HHS-TIPS.

The eight companies awarded contracts by CMS were: Electronic Data Systems Corp.; Delmarva Foundation for Medical Care, Inc.; IntergrGuard, LLC; Livanta, LLC; Maximus Federal Services, Inc.: NDCHealth; Perot Systems Government Services, Inc.; and Science Applications International Corp.

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