As part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), state health insurance exchanges will offer participating residents the ability to chose their own coverage. Set to open on Oct. 1, the exchanges will allow residents wishing to enroll in the exchanges to do so online. Many experts have questioned the security of the marketplaces, as personal and financial data may fall into the wrong hands. However, the government has put in place a training program that certifies all of the professional guides, or navigators, as a safeguard against information theft.
Lois Greisman, an associate director in the Bureau of Consumer Protection at the Federal Trade Commission, told The Fiscal Times the ACA created the ideal environment for scam artists.
“Any time you roll out a big government program like this, confusion is inevitable,” Greisman said. “This confusion creates a tremendous opportunity for the fraudster.”
Government officials recently warned consumers to be on the lookout for look-a-like marketplace websites. According to Kaiser Health News, fake online insurance exchange websites can cause confusion among those trying to enroll in the official marketplaces, and may even lead to fraud if people enter their personal information into the sites. KHN reported state officials are investigating the websites of private insurance companies and interest groups with online addresses and website layouts similar to the exchanges. While there are cases where the similarities are only a coincidence, KHN reported officials are taking the proper precautions before consumers disclose any information on the sites.
When healthcare reform was enacted in 2010, Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, sent a letter to insurance commissioners and state attorneys warning them the exchanges may encourage scams, according to KHN.
State officials intervene
KHN reported Pennsylvania is one of the states that has already taken action against look-a-like websites. In July, a private insurance company was asked to take down its website titled “Pennsylvania Health Exchange,” which also sported the state seal. Although the company complied with the request and apologized for any confusion, similar websites can cause significant confusion among state residents. According to KHN, Pennsylvania officials did not believe the private insurance company created the site out of malicious intent, nevertheless it may have caused serious data breach issues if it would have stayed live after the state’s marketplace opened.
“Deceptive websites have enrollment engines that ask for your personal information including credit card and other health identifiers that form the core of identity theft,” James Quiggle, communications director for the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud, told KHN. “Consumers have a responsibility to pay very close attention to the communications and alerts by the exchanges so they are certain of the identity of their site, whether it’s a federal or state exchange.”
State officials suggested consumers stay away of websites claiming to be state exchanges that provide little information, display graphics that seem out of place or ask for consumers to sign up. Since the exchanges do not open for enrollment until the first of October, marketplaces urging consumers to provide their medical and financial information now are fake.
Greisman suggested consumers also be aware of any site trying to rush them into providing their information or telling them there is a “special price” or “limited time offer,” as the official exchanges will do neither. According to Greisman, participants must be preapproved before they are able to purchase an insurance plan on the marketplaces. Consumers should be aware that scammers may use cold calling and make the call look like its coming from a government office.
Before the exchanges open, state residents should be on guard.