On Thursday, Attorney General Kamala D. Harris removed 10 private health insurance websites that misled Californians by imitating Covered California, the state’s official insurance marketplace for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
Harris also released tips to help consumers avoid insurance scams, according to a recent news release.
“These websites fraudulently imitated Covered California in order to lure consumers away from plans that provide the benefits of the Affordable Care Act,” Harris said.
“My office will continue to investigate and shut down these kinds of sites. I urge Californians to avoid health care scams by visiting coveredca.com.”
In September, the California Attorney General’s office began an investigation into websites that imitate the state’s Covered California website (http://coveredca.com). Multiple website operators were sent cease and desist letters informing them that their websites were in violation of state law and demanding the immediate removal of the website or transfer of the domain name to the state’s official exchange.
These websites were operated by private health insurance brokers or companies that were not affiliated with Covered California.
The websites have domain names similar to the state’s official healthcare exchange and contain unauthorized references to the official exchange’s trademarked logo and name. In several cases, websites used the phrases “Get Covered,” “Covered California” and “California Health Benefit Advisers.”
The California Affordable Care Act forbids individuals or entities from claiming to provide services on behalf of Covered California without securing a valid agreement with the State Exchange, the release states.
State law also prohibits solicitations that falsely imply a governmental connection, the use of a domain name that is confusingly similar to another entity, making or disseminating untrue or misleading representations with the intent of selling goods or services and unfair competition through untrue or misleading advertising.
To date, all website operators who have been contacted by the Attorney General’s office have complied.
The California Health Benefit Exchange is charged with implementing the ACA and is the operator of California’s online health insurance marketplace known as Covered California.
California consumers who purchase health insurance policies through this marketplace receive protections guaranteed by the ACA that may not exist in policies outside of the exchange.
Health insurance plans sold outside the official exchange on the individual market before Jan. 1, 2014, do not qualify for federal subsidies and do not have the guarantees provided by the ACA’s consumer protection provisions.
Major consumer protections include: no denials based on preexisting conditions; no rating differences based on factors other than age, geography and family size; issuers may not impose any annual dollar limits for covered services; and all qualified plans must cover essential health benefits identified under the ACA.
The California Attorney General’s Health, Education and Welfare Section, in conjunction with Covered California and the California Department of Insurance, will continue to monitor these and other potentially fraudulent sites.
To avoid scams related to California’s health insurance marketplace, Attorney General Harris has released the following tips for consumers:
- California’s only official health insurance marketplace is http://coveredca.com, which is where individuals, families and small businesses can get information, compare plans and enroll.
- Be wary if you receive a call from a representative claiming to be a government official asking for your personal information, such as Social Security number or Medicare card number. You should not provide personal or financial information over the phone and should instead contact Covered California directly.
- If you are approached by people offering assistance from Covered California, verify that they are a certified enrollment counselor by asking to see their required ID badge or by contacting Covered California directly.
- Never pay someone for assistance with healthcare enrollment. Free enrollment assistance is available by contacting Covered California directly.
- If you believe that you have been the victim of a scam, report it by contacting Covered California directly or by filing a consumer complaint with the California Attorney General’s office at: http://oag.ca.gov/ contact/consumer- complaint-against- business-or-company
To contact Covered California directly, call 800-300-1506 or email consumerprotection @covered.ca.gov.