The rollout of the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance exchange Tuesday came with more than computer glitches that stalled enrollment in the key program of the new health care law.
It also came with fears that scam artists will be cashing in on the confusion surrounding the law, as some 500,000 uninsured Hoosiers start shopping for the health care coverage that most will soon be required to carry.
The Indiana Attorney General and the Better Business Bureau are among the wide range of officials and organizations urging residents to be on the lookout for fraudsters using a battery of tools, from fake websites to “robo” phone calls, to get personal and banking information that can be used to commit financial crimes and identity theft.
“The risk of scammers here is super high,” said Abby Kuzma, director of consumer protection for the attorney general’s office.
Prompting the warnings is the opening of the “online marketplace,” the federal insurance exchange where the uninsured can register and shop for healthcare coverage. Tuesday’s opening of online enrollment through the website, www.healthcare.gov, was bumpy as millions of users jumped online.
At a “town hall” meeting Monday in Indianapolis — as Congressional gridlock over the law was leading to the federal government shutdown — a representative from the federal agency that oversees the exchange said consumers would find the online marketplace easy to use, and likened it to the online shopping site, Amazon.com.
But others at the meeting said the exchange, and the health care reform law that created it, were both complicated and controversial enough to cause the kind of problems that make people more vulnerable to crooks.
There are, for example, 34 different health plans that will be sold to Indiana residents, who can pick from options ranging from than $100 a month for bare-bones coverage for an individual to close to $1,000 a month for a family of four. There are also tax credits, subsidies, exemptions to the law, and penalties for not complying with it that aren’t easily explained.
“It’s a high visibility issue with mass confusion,” said state Rep. Ed Clere, R-New Albany, who chairs the House Public Health Committee and has traveled the state attending town hall meetings on the new law. “Everybody’s heard of Obamacare. Everbody knows something big is going on. What they don’t know are the details.”
“It’s a situation ripe for fraud,” Clere added. “And the people most likely to be targeted are the least sophisticated consumers.”
Kuzma agrees. “It’s a real opportunity for scammers. (People) are nervous about the law. Many people do need to something to comply with it but they’re not sure what they need to do.”
Both Clere and Kuzma are particularly concerned about the elderly, who may be duped into erroneously believing that their current Medicare coverage is about to end with the advent of the health exchanges. “The elderly are very vulnerable,” Kuzma said. “It’s important that we warn our parents and friends that this is something we need look out for.”
Indiana opted out of operating its own health insurance exchange to comply with the Affordable Care Act, leaving it up the federal government to implement it instead. The state has certified “navigators” — people who have been trained to assist Indiana residents on how to use the health insurance exchange and have posted their contact information on the website of the state’s Department of Insurance, at www.in.gov.in/idoi.
But there aren’t certified navigators in every community in the state, leaving many Indiana residents to figure out the exchange on their own.
One major area of confusion is when to sign up. The online enrollment to buy insurance started Tuesday, but coverage doesn’t kick in until Jan. 1. And consumers have until March 31, 2014, to sign up.
The Better Business Bureau has already sent out alerts warning consumers to be wary of a scam involving health insurance exchange cards. Here’s how it works, according to the BBB: You receive a call from someone claiming to be from the federal government and the caller informs you that you’ve been picked as part of the initial group of Americans to receive insurance cards through the Affordable Care Act. Then the caller demands you give or verify personal information, such as a bank account or Social Security number, before they’ll send you the card.
“Those are big red flags,” Kuzma said. “Nobody with the federal government is going to be calling you, demanding that kind of information.”
What to do if you are contacted by somebody you think is a scammer? Don’t give them any information, Kuzma said. But do contact her office to file a complaint, by going to the website, www.in.gov/attorneygeneral or by calling 800-382-5516 or 317-232-6330.
— Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for the CNHI newspapers in Indiana. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org