With sales of the first Affordable Care Act policies just a week away, state officials are warning consumers of rip-off artists using scare tactics and phony websites.
“Unfortunately, as with any new program, there are those who will use the new system to take advantage of or rip off consumers,” said state Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones in a statement Tuesday. Consumers should purchase the new health care policies only through licensed insurance agents or the Covered California website, he said, “not impostors who seek to prey on those who want to sign up for insurance coverage.”
Under the federal Affordable Care Act, most Americans will be required to carry health insurance, starting January 2014. The enrollment period for choosing and purchasing those policies runs from Oct. 1 through March 31, 2014. Californians can purchase policies either from licensed insurance agents or from CoveredCa.com, the state’s new health care exchange. (To be eligible for possible subsidies, you must purchase from Covered California or an insurance agent certified to carry its policies.)
Among the red flags:
• You’re told the policy’s premium is “only good for a limited time.” Be skeptical of anyone trying to pressure you into buying a policy. Premium rates in California’s health exchange program will be in effect for the full enrollment period, through March 31.
• You’re told you could “go to jail” for not having health insurance. That’s untrue. There is no jail time for anyone who doesn’t buy health insurance, but there are tax penalties.
• You’re approached online or in person by someone with an official-sounding website that could be phony. For the last year, bogus sites purporting to offer health care policies have been popping up online, many of which are trying to trick consumers into disclosing their personal or financial information. Jones said his department has denied more than 150 health insurance applications by companies whose names sounded too much like the official Covered California website, potentially confusing or misleading consumers.
The best protection against scammers is to check that the insurance agent or company is licensed by the state. Call the state Department of Insurance consumer hotline (800-927-HELP) or contact Covered California at (800) 300-1506.
Call The Bee’s Claudia Buck, (916)321-1968.