By Randa Morris
Dec 4, 2013
By now you’ve probably heard horror stories about how the Affordable Care Act (ACA), otherwise known as Obamacare, has forced so many people to lose their insurance policies. You’ve heard that affordable health insurance policies are being canceled and replaced with policies that are far more expensive than the canceled policies. But have you heard that across the country, insurance regulators are cracking down on the private insurance companies, because of the scam they are running on their customers? Probably not.
Insurance companies, what’s going on?
What’s going on? Diane Barrette is a good example of what’s going on. Barrette, a 56 year old woman from Florida, who claimed on CBS News that her $54 health insurance policy was going to cost $591 a month because of Obamacare, was a victim of exactly the kind of scam that these state agencies are dealing with.
Barrette had received a letter from one of the private insurance companies, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida, telling her that her old policy was canceled. The letter went on to say that the company would be replacing it with the new policy, and quoted a price that was ten times the cost of the old policy.CBS highlighted Barrette’s story as if she were the victim of Obamacare. She wasn’t. She was the victim of another private insurance industry scam. If CBS had been doing their job and acting as reporters and not right wing spokespeople, they would have known it, too.
Here’s how this scam works.
How this scam works is that private insurance companies send out letters notifying existing customers that their current policy has been canceled, because of the ACA’s new requirements. They then offer customers a new, ACA compliant policy at far higher rates than what the customer would pay if he went through the ACA marketplace. In most cases the insurance companies do not tell their customers what other options are available or even let them know they have a choice under the new law. Some insurance companies have pressed their customers to sign up for the new policies by a certain date, saying if they don’t, their health coverage will be lost.
Consumer Reports found her a policy for $165.00.
On the program, Barrette tells CBS that she has to hurry and make up her mind by November 1st or she will lose out on her chance to buy in. CBS offered her no explanation of her alternatives, but Consumer Reports examined Barrette’s story shortly after it aired. They easily found her a policy in the Marketplace for $165.00, not the $591 Blue Cross Blue Shield was shamelessly going to charge her.
What’s more, Consumer Reports also looked at her old policy, the one she was paying $54 a month for. They determined that it was “junk.” In essence, Barrette had been paying one of these corrupt private insurance companies nearly $650 per year, to have almost no real medical coverage, under her previous Blue Cross Blue Shield policy.
Insurance companies are exploiting the people who are looking to them for advice.
Talking Points Memo (TPM) recently published an in depth expose’ on how insurance companies like Blue Cross and Blue Shield are scamming people all across the country. While in most states it’s not criminal, it’s a scam nonetheless. By telling consumers that their policies have been canceled under the new law and offering them insurance plans that cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars more than what those consumers would pay in the marketplace, these insurance companies are exploiting the people who are looking to them for advice. High pressure tactics are used to get confused customers to sign up for these overpriced policies, including threatening letters and harassing phone calls.
Humana was fined more than $65,000 in Kentucky for this scam.
In Kentucky, state insurance regulators went after Humana for the scheme. In that state, Humana was one of the worst of these private insurance companies, guilty of exploiting people’s fears over Obamacare. The company sent out thousands of letters to their Kentucky customers telling them their policies were canceled and that they had only a short window of time to buy into new (expensive) policies. The letter also told them that their premiums would go up once Obamacare went into effect. In all, 2,200 people fell for the scam, rushing to buy the marked up policies that the company was selling. The policies were sold at a much higher cost than what is offered in the ACA Marketplace. Humana was fined more than $65,000 for the scam. The 2,200 customers who signed up to buy the more expensive policies were released from their contract with the company.
In Washington, state regulators issued a consumer alert about the scams.
In Washington, state regulators issued a consumer alert about the scams.Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler wrote:
Don’t just take what your insurance company says, make sure you shop around. You have the right to buy any plan inside the new exchange or in the outside market.
The scam is taking place all across the country, not just in some areas or some states. Consumer complaints have been lodged in Colorado, Missouri and Florida, just to name a few. Since health insurance companies like Humana and Blue Cross Blue Shield operate on a national basis, it is not surprising to see these kinds of letters being received all across the U.S.
”The reality is that this could do real harm.”
Laura Etherton, a health policy analyst at the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, told TPM:
If you’re an insurance company, you’re trying to hang onto the consumers you have at the highest price you can get them.You can take advantage of the confusion about what people get to have now. It’s a new world. It’s disappointing that insurance companies are sending confusing letters to consumers to take advantage of that confusion. The reality is that this could do real harm.