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California cracks down on health insurance scams

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.

Covered California logoCalifornia 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:
www.californiabenefitexchange.com
www.californiahealthbenefitexchange.com
www.coveredcalifornia.com
www.shopinsuranceexchange.us
www.shopinsuranceservices.com
www.healthexchangeinsurance.com
www.shopforhealthcare.org
www.taxcreditinsurance.com
www.smallbusinesshealthoptionsprogram.com
www.stateexchanges.org

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 consumerprotection@covered.ca.gov, or file a complaint with the Attorney General’s office online.

Harris’ office offered some tips for avoiding scams:

  • Be wary if you receive a call from a representative claiming to be a government official asking for your personal information like Social Security number or Medicare card number. You should not provide personal or financial information over the phone and should instead contact Covered California directly.
  • If you are approached by someone offering assistance from Covered California, verify that they are a Certified Enrollment Counselor by asking to see their required ID badge or by contacting Covered California directly.
  • Never pay someone for assistance with healthcare enrollment. Free enrollment assistance is available by contacting Covered California directly.
  • Posted on Thursday, November 14th, 2013
    Under: Attorney General, healthcare reform, Kamala Harris | 4 Comments »

    California has a new Solicitor General

    An attorney who couldn’t win U.S. Senate confirmation after President Barack Obama nominated him to a federal appeals court seat will be California’s new solicitor general, state Attorney General Kamala Harris announced Monday.

    Edward DuMontEdward DuMont, 51, in January will become the state Justice Department’s chief appellate lawyer, overseeing all civil and criminal appeals and litigating the state’s most sensitive, complex cases in state and federal courts. Harris said Californians “will be well served by Ed’s legal acumen and extensive appellate litigation experience.”

    DuMont, in Harris’ news release, said he’s honored. “While it will be hard to leave my current clients and colleagues, I look forward to returning to California, joining a new team and working together to build an expanded Solicitor General’s office that we will all be proud of.”

    President Obama nominated DuMont in April 2010 and re-nominated him in January 2011 to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. He would have been the first openly gay federal appeals court judge, but his nomination languished for more than 18 months without the Senate Judiciary Committee ever scheduling a confirmation hearing. DuMont asked Obama to withdraw his nomination in November 2011.

    An Oakland native, DuMont grew up in the Bay Area; he holds a bachelor’s degree from Yale University and a law degree from Stanford Law School.

    DuMont has been with the firm of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP in Washington, D.C., since 2002 and has been a partner there since 2004; he’s now a vice chair of the firms’a appellate and Supreme Court litigation practice group. Earlier, he served seven years as an assistant to the U.S. Solicitor General and as an associate deputy attorney general at the U.S. Justice Department, focusing on computer crime and privacy issues.

    He has argued 18 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court on issues including employment law, the First Amendment, criminal law and administrative procedure. He also has been the lead author of dozens of briefs to the high court, and has filed briefs or argued matters in 10 different federal appeals courts.

    Posted on Monday, October 28th, 2013
    Under: Attorney General, Kamala Harris | 3 Comments »

    California files health-care law amicus brief

    California Attorney General Kamala Harris on Monday filed a friend-of-the-court brief asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review whether for-profit businesses may claim religious exemptions from the national health-care law’s requirement that employee health plans cover birth control.

    The brief urges the high court to hear Kathleen Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., and to overturn a lower court’s ruling that would allow two for-profit corporations to avoid full compliance with the law. The Obama Administration sought the court’s review last month.

    “Access to contraceptive services is critical to the health of women and infants; women’s economic and social wellbeing; and women’s opportunities to participate fully in society,” the brief says. It also argues that a lower court’s determination that for-profit corporations may assert religious exemptions to certain laws could interfere with enforcement of other important regulations that protect public safety, civil rights, social welfare, housing, employment and public health.

    “The freedom of individuals to exercise the religion of their choosing is one of the most important values in our society, as reflected by its enshrinement in the federal Constitution,” the brief says. “The federal government’s contraceptive coverage regulations under ACA respect that freedom through inclusion of appropriate exemptions, while also advancing the similarly compelling interests in public health and gender equality in access to health care. The court of appeals’ decision would upset that balance and threaten far-reaching impacts on the States beyond the issues presented by this action.”

    Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, New York, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington all joined in California’s brief, which addresses a ruling issued in June by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

    Posted on Monday, October 21st, 2013
    Under: Attorney General, healthcare reform, Kamala Harris | 9 Comments »

    Money matchups: Other statewide offices

    My article in today’s editions discussed fundraising by 2014 candidates for governor, treasurer, controller and secretary of state, but here are a few other California-wide details for your wonky pleasure.

    Attorney General Kamala Harris raised $1.76 million in the first half of 2013, and had $2.7 million cash on hand as of June 30 with about $14,000 in outstanding debts. Harris won a very close race in 2010 – eight-tenths of a point, with rival Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley not conceding until three weeks after Election Day. As of now, however, nobody has filed a statement of intention to run against her in 2014.

    Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom raised $392,000 in the first half of this year and spent about $148,000, leaving him with $1.3 million cash on hand as of June 30; his campaign also had almost $34,000 in outstanding debts at that time. But Newsom, at least for now, faces little competition. Santa Monica businessman Howard Leonhardt, an independent, has a campaign website but I don’t see that he’s filed any papers with the Secretary of State; Republican Robert Bates hasn’t filed any fundraising reports. Assemblyman Isadore Hall, D-Compton, has a committee open for the 2014 lieutenant governor race, but it has only $747; he’s amassing money for a 2016 state Senate bid. And Republican congressmen Jeff Denham and Kevin McCarthy still have 2014 lieutenant governor campaign committees open but aren’t expected to give up their House seats to run the race. Neither raised any money this year; Denham had $169,000 cash on hand and McCarthy had $72,000 as of June 30.

    Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson raised $183,000 in the first half of this year and spent almost $99,000, leaving him with almost $133,000 cash on hand as of June 30; his campaign also had almost $11,000 in outstanding debts at that time. So far, nobody has filed a statement of intention to run against him in 2014.

    Likewise, nobody has filed a statement of intention to challenge Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, who raised about $490,000 in the first half of this year and spent about $137,170, leaving him with almost $920,000 cash on hand as of June 30; his campaign also had about $10,000 in outstanding debts at that time.

    Posted on Thursday, August 1st, 2013
    Under: 2014 primary, Attorney General, campaign finance, Dave Jones, Gavin Newsom, Kamala Harris, Lt. Governor, Tom Torlakson | 2 Comments »

    State agents seize arsenal from felon

    California’s program to find and seize firearms from those prohibited by law from owning them bore spectacular fruit this week as agents seized an illegal arsenal from a convicted felon.

    Agents from the state Justice Department’s Bureau of Firearms seized the weapons late Tuesay from the Sacramento-area home of Britton Edward McFetridge, 37, who was on probation due to a 2010 conviction for felony battery with serious bodily injury. (He broke someone’s face.)

    McFetridge's alleged arsenalDuring a probation search of his basement, the agents found eight unregistered assault weapons, one bolt-action rifle, eight large-capacity drum magazines, 100 other large-capacity magazines and more than 20,000 rounds of ammunition.

    The weapons had been bought illegally in the last three to five years from private parties, according to the news release from Attorney General Kamala Harris’ office, and the magazines were illegally purchased online. Spokeswoman Michelle Gregory said the Armed Prohibited Persons System (APPS) flagged McFetridge because he had two other firearms registered to him, which agents were unable to locate.

    McFetridge was arrested later Tuesday evening at his workplace – the Royal Peacock Tattoo Parlor, apparently – and was booked into the Sacramento County Jail on charges of being a felon in possession of a firearm, possession of unregistered assault weapons, being a felon in possession of ammunition and large capacity magazines, and violation of probation.

    The Sacramento Bee featured McFetridge in an article less than two weeks ago about tattoo artists donating their time for a charity marathon inking session.

    APPS cross-references five databases to find people who legally purchased handguns and registered assault weapons since 1996 with people who are prohibited from owning or possessing firearms, including felons and the mentally ill. The system is the only one of its kind in the nation; agents collected 461 firearms and 23,080 rounds of ammunition statewide in the first four months of this year.

    Gov. Jerry Brown last month signed into law SB 140, which diverted $24 million into the badly backlogged APPS program from a surplus of background-check fees.

    Gun-rights and lobbying groups including the National Rifle Association, the National Shooting Sports Foundation and the California Rifle and Pistol Association had opposed the bill, saying lawful gun owners shouldn’t pay the cost of such a program; any surplus background-check fee money should be returned or lead to a reduction in the fee, they said.

    Posted on Thursday, June 27th, 2013
    Under: Attorney General, gun control, Kamala Harris | No Comments »

    DAs meet with Kamala Harris on gun enforcement

    The Bay Area was heavily represented as California Attorney General Kamala Harris convened a group of county district attorneys Friday in Los Angeles to seek ways to reduce gun violence through enforcement of existing laws and prevention efforts.

    Among the 11 DAs present were Nancy O’Malley of Alameda County, Jeff Rosen of Santa Clara County, Stephen Wagstaffe of San Mateo County, Edward Berberian of Marin County and Gary Lieberstein of Napa County; also present were the top prosecutors from Los Angeles, Merced, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Santa Barbara counties. Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck and former Assemblyman Mike Feuer, a Democrat now seeking the Los Angeles City Attorney’s office.

    “Gun violence continues to be a distressing and persistent problem in the United States, but California is leading the nation in smart, common-sense gun policies designed to protect our communities,” Harris said in a news release. “By working together, law enforcement and our state’s district attorneys can make a difference by improving enforcement and increasing prevention to help keep all Californians safe from gun violence.”

    This “leadership group” will prepare a report of best practices that will serve as models for law enforcement in other communities to adopt, and as models for potential legislative reform.

    Harris took the opportunity to once again tout the Armed Prohibited Persons System (APPS), which matches lists of handgun and assault-weapon owners to updated lists of convicts and mental-health patients so that firearms can be seized from those barred by law from owning them. Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed into law SB 140, which diverts $24 million into the badly backlogged APPS program from a surplus of background-check. In the first four months of 2013, agents have collected 461 firearms and 23,080 rounds of ammunition statewide.

    Posted on Friday, May 17th, 2013
    Under: Attorney General, gun control, Kamala Harris | 9 Comments »

    California sues big bank over debt collections

    California Attorney General Kamala Harris sued JPMorgan Chase & Co. today, claiming the bank used fraudulent and unlawful debt-collection practices about 100,000 Californians.

    The lawsuit filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court claims Chase engaged in widespread, illegal robo-signing, among other unlawful practices, to commit debt-collection abuses against credit-card borrowers over at least three years.

    Kamala Harris“Chase abused the judicial process and engaged in serious misconduct against California credit card borrowers,” Harris said in a news release. “This enforcement action seeks to hold Chase accountable for systematically using illegal tactics to flood California’s courts with specious lawsuits against consumers. My office will demand a permanent halt to these practices and redress for borrowers who have been harmed.”

    Chase spokesman Paul Hartwick said the bank would make no comment Thursday.

    Chase from January 2008 through April 2011 filed thousands of debt collection lawsuits every month in California – including 469 such suits on one day alone. The lawsuit alleges that to keep up this pace, the bank “cut corners in the name of speed, cost savings, and their own convenience, providing only the thinnest veneer of legitimacy to their lawsuits.”

    For example, Chase is accused of illegally “robo-signing” various court filings, including sworn documents, declarations, and verified complaints, without reviewing the relevant files or bank records or even reading the documents before signing.

    The lawsuit also accuses the bank of failing to properly serve notice of debt collection lawsuits against consumers while claiming they had been served as required by law – a practice sometimes called “sewer service” which results in the consumers not even knowing they’ve been sued.

    And the lawsuit claims Chase haphazardly assembled its official legal filings – for example, failing to redact consumers’ personal information in attachments to filings, potentially exposing them to identity theft and in violation of California law. Also, when asking courts to enter default judgments against consumers, Chase consistently swore under penalty of perjury that the consumers weren’t on active military duty when in fact the bank hadn’t actually checked.

    Posted on Thursday, May 9th, 2013
    Under: Attorney General, Kamala Harris | 1 Comment »

    State took 2,000 guns from illegal owners in 2012

    California may have a sizeable leg up on other states in taking guns away from mentally ill people who are barred by law from owning them.

    State Attorney General Kamala Harris said Tuesday that more than 2,000 firearms were seized in 2012 from people in California who were legally barred from possessing them, including mentally unstable people and those with active restraining orders. She noted the state has clear laws determining who can and can’t possess firearms based on their threat to public safety.

    “Enforcing those laws is crucial because we have seen the terrible tragedies that occur when guns are in the wrong hands,” she said, referring to a mentally ill gunman’s spree Friday at a Connecticut elementary school that claimed 26 lives, including 20 children.

    Harris said 33 state Department of Justice agents used its Armed Prohibited Persons System (APPS) database to identify convicted felons, people with active restraining orders, people determined to be mentally unstable and others barred from owning guns. Agents seized 2,033 firearms, 117,000 rounds of ammunition, and 11,072 illegal high-capacity magazines from Jan. 1 through Nov. 30, with most of the firearms seized during two six-week sweeps.

    The first statewide sweep targeted people barred from gun ownership because of mental health issues, and the second focused on people with legally registered assault weapons who were later prohibited from owning them.

    Harris last year sponsored SB 819, carried by state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, to increase funding for the APPS program through the use of existing regulatory fees collected by gun dealers; the new law took effect at the start of this year.

    The APPS database cross-references people who legally bought handguns and registered assault weapons since 1996 with people who are prohibited from owning or possessing firearms. APPS was launched in November 2006, and the first statewide sweep was conducted in 2007. California is the nation’s first and only state to have created such a database.

    Posted on Tuesday, December 18th, 2012
    Under: Attorney General, gun control, Kamala Harris, Public safety | 10 Comments »

    AG Kamala Harris says give, but give wisely

    Commercial fundraisers in California raised $338.5 million in 2011, but only just over half of that actually went to charitable organizations, according to a report released today by state Attorney General Kamala Harris.

    So in this season of giving, ask a lot of questions about how and who to give to.

    “This report gives Californians the vital information they need to make educated choices about where to make charitable contributions this holiday season,” Harris said in a news release. “While commercial fundraisers play a role in supporting charities in California, it is important for donors to know how much of their money will be used to support the charity’s programs, and how much will go to overhead.”

    The 51 percent of donated funds going to charities using a professional fundraiser in 2011 is actually an increase from the 2010 average of 44.4 percent.

    Commercial fundraisers, hired by charities to raise money on their behalf, typically charge a flat fee for their services or take a percentage of the contributions they collect.

    Most charities registered with the Attorney General don’t use commercial fundraisers to raise funds, but do their own, in-house fundraising. But state law requires commercial fundraisers to register with the Attorney General’s office and file annual financial disclosure reports detailing income and expenses for each fundraising campaign.

    The $338.5 million figure excludes thrift store operations and vehicle donation programs, which are accounted for separately.

    The Attorney General’s office also publishes a Guide to Charitable Giving for Donors with advice and guidelines, including:

      Ask the fundraiser how a donation will be distributed. Fundraisers are required by law to tell a consumer this information.
      Ask what percentage of donations will be used to pay for fundraising expenses. This information can better inform the consumer as to how much of the contribution will go to the cause versus overhead.
      Ask if the fundraiser works for a commercial fundraiser and is being paid to solicit. If the answer is yes, then it is likely less of the funds are going to the charity.
      Avoid cash donations, as cash can more easily be diverted to non-charitable purposes and there is no way to trace it.
      Avoid giving credit card information to a telephone solicitor or in response to a telephone solicitation.
      Learn about a charitable organization, its activities and its fundraising practices before giving.

    The Attorney General’s office maintains a searchable online database on registered charities and registered professional fundraisers, but donors also can check with the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance and the American Institute of Philanthropy.

    Posted on Thursday, November 29th, 2012
    Under: Attorney General, Kamala Harris | No Comments »

    Lawmakers boycott contempt vote on Holder

    The House voted 255-67 today to hold U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress for allegedly stonewalling over documents relating to the probe of the Fast and Furious “gunwalking” operation on the U.S.-Mexico border.

    But more than 100 Democrats left the House floor to boycott the vote, including several Bay Area lawmakers: Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Pete Stark, D-Fremont; Mike Honda, D-San Jose; Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma; John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove; and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco.

    Barbara Lee (Dec-2010)“I cannot and will not participate in this hyper-partisan and purely political vote today to hold Attorney General in contempt of Congress,” Lee said in a news release.

    “Contempt power should be used sparingly, carefully and only in the most egregious situations. The Attorney General has gone above and beyond in his response to request for information on “Fast and Furious”, an unfortunate operation that began under the Bush Administration and, in fact, was terminated by Attorney General Holder,” she said. “This contempt vote is unprecedented, unwarranted and entirely unnecessary. Gandhi once said that ‘Non-cooperation with evil is as much a duty as cooperation with good.’ That is why I am standing with so many of my colleagues in refusing to participate in this shameful Republican political stunt.”

    Reps. George Miller, D-Martinez; Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton; Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough; Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; and Mike Thompson, D-Napa remained on the floor to cast votes against the resolution.

    Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, called for the vote with this statement:

    John Boehner“It’s important for the American people to know how we got here and to know the facts of this case. The Congress asked the Department of Justice for the facts related to Fast and Furious and the events that led to the death of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry. The Department of Justice did not provide the facts and the information that we requested. Instead, the information came from people outside the Department, people who wanted to do the right thing. In addition to not providing the information, the Administration admitted to misleading Congress, actually retracting a letter it had sent 10 months earlier.

    “I think all the Members understand this is a very serious matter. The Terry family wants to know how this happened and they have every right to have their answers. The House needs to know how this happened, and it is our constitutional duty to find out. So the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee issued a lawful and narrowly tailored subpoena. We’ve been patient, giving the Justice Department every opportunity to comply, so that we can get to the bottom of this for the Terry family. We’ve shown more than enough good faith, but the White House has chosen to invoke executive privilege. That leaves us no other options. The only recourse left for the House is to continue seeking the truth and to hold Attorney General in contempt of Congress.

    “Now I don’t take this matter lightly, and I frankly hoped it would never come to this. The House’s focus is on jobs and on the economy. But no Justice Department is above the law and no Justice Department is above the Constitution, which each of us has sworn an oath to uphold. So I ask the Members of this body to come together and to support this resolution so that we can seek the answers that the Terry family and the American people deserve.”

    After the vote, Holder issued a statement which is presented in its entirety after the jump…
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted on Thursday, June 28th, 2012
    Under: Anna Eshoo, Attorney General, Barbara Lee, George Miller, Jackie Speier, Jerry McNerney, John Boehner, John Garamendi, Law enforcement, Lynn Woolsey, Mike Honda, Mike Thompson, Nancy Pelosi, Obama presidency, Pete Stark, U.S. House, Zoe Lofgren | 17 Comments »