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D.C.'s New Health Exchange Brings Options, But Make Sure You Shop Safely

Idriys P. Abdullah, Special to The Informer | 10/4/2013, 4:05 p.m.
When a major new federal law takes effect, there's often a flock of con artists not far behind trying to ...
Courtesy of www.dchealthlink.com

When a major new federal law takes effect, there’s often a flock of con artists not far behind trying to take advantage of the confusion.

The likeliest scams on the new Obamacare health exchanges will be people offering to sign you up for health insurance for a fee (it’s free, of course, to sign up) and – more dangerously – who’ll want your social security number and other personal information in order to steal your identity. They may even design a fake but official-looking website to lure you in. That’s why it’s crucial to confirm whom you’re talking with and that they actually work for DC Health Link or a legitimate broker when you sign up.

There are two sure ways to check that you’re getting solid advice and buying insurance through the new DC Health Link health insurance marketplace that opened Oct. 1: Take your questions directly to the website, www.dchealthlink.com, or call the DC Health Link contact center at (855) 532-5465. If you take nothing else from this article, you may want to tear this contact information out of the paper you’re reading and pin it up someplace.

The experts say a first wave of such fraud hit soon after the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010. But the good news is that the District’s Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking hasn’t received any complaints.

That, of course, doesn’t mean there haven’t been any, but could simply mean that victims haven’t reported them. (Victims of certain crimes, including financial scams, sometimes don’t report to authorities out of embarrassment.)

But most of the other instances of purported fraud from around the country so far are merely “anecdotal,” says Howard Goldblatt, director of government affairs at the Council Against Insurance Fraud, a group of insurance companies and government agencies. Will fraud be a big problem in the new health insurance marketplaces then? “Probably not,” he says.

The Federal Trade Commission says it’s had 200 complaints since the Affordable Care Act became law three years ago but won’t say whether any rise to the level of fraud.

And the federal Department of Health and Human Services, responsible for overseeing the health insurance marketplaces, says it doesn’t have any figures on fraud, at least that it’s disclosing now.

Reports began surfacing of identify fraud scams as soon as the federal Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, passed in 2010.

Scam artists reportedly began cold-calling, faxing and emailing people, sometimes threatening them with jail unless they signed up for insurance. A second wave of identity theft commenced this spring, propelled – according to the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud – by publicity about the health insurance marketplaces as their opening neared on Oct. 1.

However, experts like Mr. Goldblatt say that now the exchanges are up and running, consumers should still be very careful. Here’s what to look out for:

In California, scam artists have reportedly been calling to “verify” personal information; a Maryland newspaper reports the same; in Kansas, people claiming to be government employees are calling victims with the news that they’re among the first to get their Obamacare membership cards once they divulge their personal information.