Despite the government shutdown, the doors to the Obamacare health insurance exchanges have swung open (kinda, sorta), which also means scam artists are strutting through them, looking for ways to defraud Americans eager to buy health coverage.
As Federal Trade Commission chairwoman Edith Ramirez recently said, “At the FTC, we know all too well how scammers invariably try to take advantage of developments in the marketplace and new government programs.” Consumer watchdogs expect the fraudsters’ schemes will get worse over the next four to six months.
Before I run down the scams to watch out for, a couple of words about the health insurance exchanges (sometimes called marketplaces) themselves.
Health Exchanges: Not Ready for Prime Time
If you plan to start pricing a policy through your state’s exchange, prepare for some frustration. Here are just a few examples of what consumers around the country can expect, according to Saturday’s New York Times:
- Oregon residents signing up for their exchange will have to go through an insurance agent or a community group until at least mid-October.
- The Washington D.C. Health Benefit Exchange Authority’s executive director discovered a “high error rate, about 15 percent” in pre-launch tests determining whether its users would be eligible for tax credits or Medicaid.
- During October, Coloradans who want to know if they’ll be eligible for an Obamacare subsidy won’t find out online; they’ll have to call a customer service representative.
- Maryland’s small businesses won’t be able to buy coverage until January. (Small businesses can’t shop for insurance or compare plans until Nov. 1 at exchanges the administration is running for 36 states.)
So you may want to wait a few weeks until more kinks are ironed out. You have until December 15 to sign up for coverage that’ll kick in January 1, 2014.
The 5 Obamacare Scams to Avoid
On to the scams. Be on your guard against sleazeballs pushing these five Obamacare fakes — and help keep your parents from being victims, too:
1. The nonexistent Obamacare card. The Better Business Bureau has issued a warning not to fall for the line that you need to get an Affordable Care Act insurance card in order to buy coverage.
“The simple fact is there is no Affordable Care card. It’s a scam,” says Carrie A. Hurt, president and CEO of the Council of Better Business Bureaus.
As you might expect, con artists pitching the cards say they need to get your personal information, such as your Social Security number or bank account, before they can send one.
2. The phony “government employee” phone call. As my colleague Caroline Mayer recently wrote, law enforcement officials say elderly Americans are prime targets for this scam.
The Los Angeles County Department of Consumer Affairs, she noted, said an older resident was tricked into providing her Social Security number and medical information by someone claiming to be from the federal government who wanted to “confirm her eligibility” for Obamacare.