Even as the state’s health benefit exchange struggles to sign up enough Californians to ensure its viability, law enforcement is cracking down on online scams that aim to mislead people seeking insurance.
California Attorney General Kamala Harris announced Thursday the removal of 10 private health-insurance websites that fraudulently imitated Covered California, the state’s official marketplace under the nation’s new health insurance law.
Harris’s office launched an investigation into such sites in September, and eventually sent cease-and-desist letters to site operators telling them that their websites violated state law and demanding their immediate removal or transfer of the domain name to the state’s official exchange. All 10 have complied.
These websites were operated by private health insurance brokers or companies, had domain names similar to the state’s exchange, and contained unauthorized references to the exchange’s trademarked logo and name – in some cases, using the phrases “Get Covered,” “Covered California” and “California Health Benefit Advisers.”
But individual-market insurance sold outside the exchange before January 1 won’t qualify for federal subsidies and don’t have the new law’s consumer protection provisions, such as no denials based on pre-existing conditions; no rating differences based on factors other than age, geography and family size; no annual dollar limits for covered services; and guaranteed coverage of certain essential health benefits.
State law forbids people or entities from claiming to provide services on behalf of Covered California without securing a valid agreement with the exchange. It also bars solicitations that falsely imply a governmental connection; use of a domain name that’s confusingly similar to another entity’s; making or disseminating untrue or misleading representations with the intent of selling goods or services; and unfair competition through untrue or misleading advertising.
The now-deactivated sites were:
The real Covered California website is at www.coveredca.com. If you believe you’ve been the victim of a scam, contact Covered California at (800) 300-1506 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or file a complaint with the Attorney General’s office online.
Harris’ office offered some tips for avoiding scams: