The Worst Cities for Health Care and COVID-19 Scams

Exposing the cities with the most Medicare, Medicaid, coronavirus and senior scams

Published Nov. 2, 2020

 

Health care costs, access and quality of care can vary from one U.S. city to the next. And so too can the frequency of scams targeting the vulnerable populations who rely on that care.  

We used the Better Business Bureau (BBB) scam tracker tool to determine the worst cities in the U.S. for scams related to health care, Medicare and Medicaid. Analyzing data from 2015 to 2020, we found a total of 3,013 such scams reported to the BBB from across the U.S. 

The federal trade commission estimates older adults aged 60 and older lost over $445 million to various forms of fraud in 2019. According to the Office for Victims of Crime, as little as 15% of fraud crimes are ever reported to authorities. Most health care, Medicare and Medicaid scams go unreported to the Better Business Bureau, unfortunately, but the data in our report are likely indicative of much more severe fraud volume and loss to scams focused in these major cities.

Our report also highlights the worst 20 cities in America for coronavirus (COVID-19) scams, which by far were most concentrated in Memphis, Tennessee in 2020.

Lastly, we calculated the average dollar amount lost to scams of any kind in the American cities that have the highest concentration of senior residents.

Read on for our study findings, our methodology and expert advice on how to identify and avoid Medicare scams.

The Worst 20 Cities for Medicare, Medicaid and Health Care Scams

The table below shows the 20 U.S. cities with the highest number of health care, Medicare or Medicaid scams reported to the BBB in the last five years. 

Important note: The data below only reflects scams that were reported to the BBB. The numbers below may not reflect the total number of scams that actually took place in each city, but it does give a representative sample of the volume of scams taking place.

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The 20 worst cities for health care, Medicare and Medicaid scams

The worst state for health care, Medicare and Medicaid scams is Ohio, which is home to the 3 cities with the highest number of these types of scams: Vienna, Cleveland and Columbus. 

Vienna, a town of around 4,000 people situated halfway between Pittsburgh and Cleveland in northeast Ohio, had 34 reports of these types of scams during the study period. That was rivaled only by the 32 reported scams coming from Cleveland, which boasts a population roughly 96 times the size of Vienna.

Columbus, Ohio’s capital city, was home to 19 reported scams and placed 3rd in the rankings. The Ohio cities of Dayton and Cincinnati also made the list, giving the Buckeye State 5 of the top 18 cities for these types of scams. 

Texas also placed 5 cities on the list with Tyler, Amarillo, Wichita Falls, San Antonio and Houston.

Health care, Medicare and Medicaid scams are especially targeted at older adults and can include phone calls, emails, letters or even visits to your front door by someone claiming to represent an insurance organization and attempting to gather your personal information or sell a phony policy. 

Similar types of scams involve another person using your Medicare information to receive health care services under your identity. Even health care providers can get in on the act through fraudulent Medicare billing or services. 

One particular scam victim in the BBB’s database reported losing $489 for purchasing what they were led to believe was health insurance, when in fact it was not. 

“I immediately went to my bank to stop payment and it had already gone through. I called the company trying to get a refund and was told it was non-refundable.” - Health insurance scam victim 

Expert advice on how to avoid Medicare scams

"Unfortunately, there are a lot of bad people out there who use Medicare — which is an important program for seniors and others — as a means of scamming,” says Medicare Marketing Compliance Manager and licensed insurance producer John Krahnert. “The best advice I can give any Medicare beneficiary is to protect your personal information. Don't share your Medicare number or other sensitive information, like your Social Security number, with anyone.”

"Be very skeptical of anyone who identifies themselves as representing ‘Medicare’ on the phone. The federal Medicare program will never ask for your personal information without prior permission, nor will a Medicare representative attempt to sell you anything.” – John Krahnert, Medicare Marketing Compliance Manager

“Also, keep track of the services and bills you receive for your healthcare,” says Krahnert. “If you get a bill that looks suspicious, erroneous, or just doesn't make sense, report it to 1-800-Medicare."

The 20 Worst Cities for COVID-19 Scams

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Graphic showing the 20 worst cities for COVID-19 coronavirus scams

As the COVID-19 pandemic heated up, so too did various scams taking advantage of the problems caused by the coronavirus outbreak. 

The worst city in 2020 for coronavirus scams – by a considerable margin – was Memphis, Tennessee, with 56 reported COVID-19 scams. That’s nearly 3 times as many scams as were reported in New York City, despite having just 1/13th of the population. 

Cleveland and Columbus Ohio were 5th and 11th for most coronavirus scams, respectively. San Antonio (3rd) and Dallas (13th) were also both in the top 20. 

In all, there were 9 cities that were in the top 20 worst cities for health care, Medicare and Medicaid scams and also for COVID-19 scams:

  • Memphis
  • New York
  • San Antonio
  • Los Angeles
  • Cleveland
  • Saint Louis
  • Columbus
  • Miami
  • Louisville

Each of the top 5 cities for COVID-19 scams were also among the top 20 for health care, Medicare or Medicaid scams. 

Scams Can Cost Seniors Thousands of Dollars

Seniors are unfortunately the frequent target of various types of scams each year. The table below shows the U.S. cities with the highest percentages of residents age 65 and over, as well as the average dollar amount people lose due to scams in those cities.

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Graphic showing the average dollar amount lost in scams reported in highly populated senior cities

In The Villages in Florida, where more than 56% of residents are 65 and older, the average loss attributed to a scam reported to the BBB was $1,915. 

The average dollar amount lost to scams was highest in Brookings, Oregon, where one out of every three residents is 65 and over and the cost of a scam is $2,534 on average. 

Comparatively speaking, Prescott, Arizona, has a senior population that is nearly identical to that of Brookings but reported an average loss of just $14 per scam. 

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Graphic showing the number of Medicare scams and the average amount of money lost

While the table above presents the average losses for any type of scam, the average amount lost specifically to health care, Medicare and Medicaid scams was $100. This average amount may not seem like much for some people, but it could be a potentially devastating amount for seniors living on fixed incomes.

Methodology

The data used for this project comes from the Better Business Bureau (BBB) Scam Tracker. It was initially accessed on October 10, 2020.

Using the data provided ZIP codes, we matched each ZIP code to corresponding U.S. cities. The BBB compiles data regarding several different types of scams, but for the purpose of this project, we analyzed Health Care/Medicaid/Medicare scams and COVID-19 scams.

To determine which cities had the highest population of seniors (people aged 65 and older), we used Census Bureau data for 2017. 

Fair Use Statement

Of course we would love for you to share our work with others. We just ask that if you do, please grant us the proper citation with a link to this study so that we may be given credit for our efforts.

Research and reports

Our research reports analyze a number of issues important to seniors, from health perceptions, medical communication, health habits and more.