CONSUMER FORUM

Obamacare’s implementation provides opportunities for scammers

Posted Sept. 29, 2013, at 2:06 p.m.

Millions of Americans now are just hours away from being able to sign up for healthcare coverage under provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), or Obamacare as it’s often called.

This newspaper has run a series of stories about places to get good information about the startup of what’s termed the Health Insurance Marketplace. That’s information that scam artists don’t want you to know; they’d rather spin their webs of lies about supposed requirements of the federal healthcare law.

We touched on the big lies just four weeks ago in this column, but they’re worth mentioning again. One whopper is that you should hurry and sign with that person who called you out of the blue, who asked for your bank account number or other information. Maybe that person promised some “special deal” good for a “limited time only.” Never mind that the law allows people to purchase between Oct. 1 and March 31 of next year to comply.

Then there are the “navigators,” short-term federal hires to help people figure out what coverage is best for them and their families. Some scammers have already been posing as navigators, even though the marketplace isn’t open for business. The posers are after your money, not trying to help you. Others are selling phony health insurance plans, which may pay little or nothing when you need coverage the most.

Also in the fraudsters’ bag of tricks: The “new Obamacare card” that you supposedly need. It’s a variation of the you-need-a-new-Medicare-card scam that’s been around for years. There is no Obamacare card, just another scam.

One more lie is that you could be sent to jail for failing to sign up. While the law says people who can afford it must have what’s termed minimum essential coverage, the penalty for failure to have health insurance in 2014 will be one percent of a person’s annual income or $95, whichever is higher. There’s no provision in the ACA for jail time.

The federal government website on ACA outlines the fine policy and explains some exemptions. It states that you will have minimum essential coverage if you have any marketplace plan. You’re also covered if you have health insurance through an employer, including COBRA, grandfathered or not. You need do nothing if you are already covered by Medicare, Medicaid (MaineCare) or the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Also meeting minimum coverage requirements are people in the military who have TRICARE, those enrolled in veterans’ health programs and people with Peace Corps Volunteer plans.

There’s a lot of detail in the ACA, and scammers prey on people who might be confused. Eric Cioppa, Maine’s superintendent of insurance, urged Mainers not to give personal information to people who are selling them coverage. Cioppa said recently such people “should never request personal information, such as a Social Security Number or details related to financial accounts, when explaining health insurance policies.”

Call the Maine Bureau of Insurance at 1-800-300-5000 with questions or concerns. The Bureau’s website has individual and small group plans being offered in the marketplace. There’s also a PowerPoint presentation on the ACA and Maine’s insurance market.

Regulators in Maine and at the federal level are interested in cracking down on scammers. Report attempts and advise older family and friends who might be targeted by scammers where to get reliable information.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, visit http://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

 

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