Scams and frauds hurt consumers by costing them money and possibly the psychological damage of being taken advantage of, but medical fraud is much costlier. Scams related to health insurance, billing, and identity can cost consumers and patients a lot of money. Fraudulent use of someone’s health insurance information can be difficult to recover from.
Fraudulent products related to medical care take harm to another level. From supplements that claim to treat cancer to cleared medical devices that were never rigorously tested, fraud and scams are rampant in the healthcare industry, and consumers and patients pay the price. Be aware of common scams, signs of fraud or fraudulent claims for medical products, and always be cautious and ask questions before giving out your personal, medical information, or using a questionable medical product or supplement.
Medical Product Scams
Manufacturers and companies that sell products with deceptive claims or advertising are committing a type of fraud and are scamming consumers. There are many fraudulent products on the market, including medical and healthcare devices as well as supplements and medications. Some of the common scam products as reported by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) include:
- Drugs or supplements purported to treat cancer
- Unproven and untested remedies for arthritis pain
- Diagnostic home testing kits
- Products that are supposed to relieve sexual dysfunction
- Diet supplements and weight loss products
- Flu treatment
These scams are harmful because they are either unproven to be effective or because they could actually cause health problems or injuries. Products that are not effective prevent patients from getting real medical care and also cause harm. Additionally, billions of dollars are wasted on scam products.
FDA-Approved Devices that May Be a Scam
The FDA has an approval process for some medical devices that is much less rigorous than what new drugs and brand new devices must complete. New medical devices that are considered to be very similar, or in the words of the FDA “substantially equivalent” are cleared through a process known as 510(k). Manufacturers of a new medical device must submit an application to show this equivalence. The device is then considered to be cleared by the FDA and ready for market.
Critics of the 510(k) clearance process say that it lets faulty products, or even products that could be considered scams, through the cracks. Consumers and patients assume an FDA-cleared device will be safe, but some of these have caused serious complications and harm.
One example of such a 510(k) device is Essure, an implantable, non-surgical, permanent birth control device made and sold by Bayer. It was cleared by the FDA in 2002 but has led to thousands of complaints and reports of adverse events, even deaths of women who had the device inserted. A handful of deaths related to Essure were the worst consequences of this device, but many women also experienced bleeding, pain, organ damage, autoimmune reactions, and unintended pregnancies.
The harm caused by the device is considered by some to be the result of a scam. Because of the easy approval process by the FDA, Bayer was never forced to provide overwhelming evidence of its safety. Women paid the price and thousands have now filed lawsuits. Bayer finally stopped selling Essure in July of 2018.
Other medical devices that have been 510(k) approved and have led to numerous complaints and harm to patients include: hip and knee joint replacements, power morcellators used during hysterectomy surgery, and transvaginal mesh used to treat stress urinary incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse in women.
Medical Identity Theft and Other Types of Fraud
An important type of fraud related to medicine and health care is known as medical identity theft. Typical identity theft—when someone steals a person’s credit card numbers or social security number—can be damaging, but there are protections. For instance, you are not liable for fraudulent purchases made on your credit card.
But medical identity theft is different. When an identity is stolen and used to get treatment or other types of medical care, the original person is liable. In other words, you may be forced to pay for medications, care, and treatment you never received.
There are many other types of fraud related to healthcare that can cost victims a lot of money. These may include someone asking payment to help find health insurance coverage, asking for a fee for a new Medicare card, fraudulent discounts on medical products or medications, and scammers telling consumers they need to act immediately to be eligible for insurance coverage.
Protecting Against Health Care Frauds and Scams
Consumers want to be able to trust people offering services and products related to health and medicine, but sometimes it’s not possible. Patients and consumers must take steps to protect themselves from the scammers and frauds. Be aware, know who you’re working with, check with your doctors and other healthcare professionals, and when you do come across a scam or are a victim of fraud, report it to the Federal Trade Commission or the FDA.
Become more knowledgeable too, and be aware of how scammers market their products or services. There are some important red flags to look out for, whether you are considering buying a medical product, medication, insurance plan, device, or supplement:
- Claims that a product offers a quick solution or a cure
- Promotional claims using words like miraculous, cure, natural, non-toxic, or secret ingredient
- Limited availability
- Requests for money up front
- “Amazing” testimonials, sometimes from doctors
- Diagnostic tools that claim you don’t need to see a doctor
Dealing with frauds and scams are part of life, but when it comes to your health and medical care the consequences can be harmful and even life-threatening. It’s important to be knowledgeable and up to date on some of the most common recent scams and also to always be skeptical of products and services that seem too good to be true. If you have been harmed or victimized by a scam or a fraud related to healthcare or medical products or services, report it. And, consider taking legal action if it was a company, such as a medical device manufacturer that caused you harm. There may already be lawsuits filed for similar cases and you may be in a good position to join or start your own claim.