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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.
Courtesy of www.dchealthlink.com

To be sure, political opponents of the health insurance marketplaces, also known as “exchanges,” are ginning up worries about fraud to make it harder for the exchanges to succeed.

And it’s also important to keep fraud in the health insurance marketplaces in perspective: Experts, including the federal Government Accountability Office, estimate thieves systematically steal tens of billions of dollars a year from Medicare and Medicaid due to the huge size and complexity of these programs, far more than thieves are likely to steal from individuals on the new health insurance marketplaces.

Still, the money stolen on and around the marketplaces is more likely to come directly from consumers’ pockets instead of government coffers. These thefts are more likely to engender complaints, get more publicity and victimize some of the District’s most vulnerable residents in the midst of a queasy economy.

For instance, elderly people on Medicare don’t have to worry about DC Health Link – it’s for people who buy their insurance directly or are covered by a small employer. Yet scam artists like to prey on the elderly as easy targets, and experts say it’s likely they’ll try to convince seniors they need to sign up for insurance through the marketplace, too.

Experts also worry about thieves hacking into a health insurance marketplace’s computers for the huge trove of personal information within; the marketplaces, of course, are building their systems to be impenetrable.

In the District, the Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking regulates insurance and compiles evidence for prosecutors to charge insurance fraud. If someone makes a suspicious overture to you about health insurance, you can report it to the department’s fraud investigators at (202) 727-8000, email disb@dc.gov or visit our website at disb.dc.gov.

“We’re committed to seeing DC Health Link bring quality health insurance to people who have never been able to afford it before,” said William P. White, commissioner of the department. “And we’re equally committed to ensuring none of these people are ripped-off by con artists while trying to provide insurance for themselves and their families.”

Idriys Abdullah is a consumer protection advocate for the D.C. Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking.