Maine seniors are being warned to beware of fraud as the federal government begins sending out $250 checks as part of health care reform passed this year by Congress.

Beginning this week, thousands of eligible Medicare recipients will start getting the one-time, tax-free checks to help them with prescription drug prices. Seniors don’t have to do anything to get the checks. Once their drug costs for the year hit $2,830, the checks will be issued automatically.

Advocates for seniors and federal officials, including U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, are warning seniors to be on the lookout for fraud.

“Unfortunately, scam artists around the country have been preying on seniors expecting this check,” Pingree said in a written statement. “They call seniors and tell them they need to give out personal information like Social Security numbers and bank accounts to get the checks. That’s completely untrue and if you get a call like that you should hang up and call the Attorney General’s Office.”

As many as 21,500 Mainers could qualify to receive the so-called “doughnut hole”’ coverage gap rebates, according to U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine.

The doughnut hole is the period in the Medicare prescription drug benefit in which the beneficiary pays 100 percent of the cost of their drugs until they hit the catastrophic coverage threshold.

The $250 checks are the first step in reducing prescription drug prices under health care reform, according to Pingree. Next year, seniors in the doughnut hole will get a 50 percent discount on name-brand prescription drugs and a 75 percent discount on generics. The average Maine senior will save $700 next year on prescription drugs because of health care reform, she said.

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