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:

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.
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    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.


    Brown blames shutdown on ‘extreme radicals’

    Gov. Jerry Brown today signed a package of bills to tweak and advance Obamacare’s implementation in California – and he took a shot at congressional Republicans in announcing it.

    “While extreme radicals in Washington shut down our government, here in California we’re taking action to extend decent health care to millions of families,” Brown said in his news release.

    See the complete list of bills Brown signed today, after the jump…
    Continue Reading


    Lee & Farr decry shutdown during House debate

    A few Northern California House members were among those who took to the lectern moments ago during the latest floor debate on the impending federal government shutdown.

    The House is debating the latest GOP plan: tying a one-year delay of Obamacare’s individual mandate to the continuing resolution that would keep the government funded and running past midnight tonight.

    Rep. Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz, called a shutdown “a huge mistake.” He said his party fought vehemently against the decision to go to war in Iraq, against welfare reform, and against lots of other things in recent decade, but with each, “we didn’t shut down the government after we lost that debate – instead, we tried to make it work.”

    The shutdown, however, will hurt everyone from farmers trying to export food to mothers feeding their children with government aid, to students hungry for a school meal.

    “It’s a mean, reckless, ill-conceived idea to shut down government,” Farr said.

    Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, was a bit fierier still.

    “Here we go again, Mr. Speaker – it’s really no secret that the Tea Party Republicans came here not really as public servants, but to destroy and decimate our government … This is, really, their dream vote,” Lee said. “It is shameful and it is downright wrong.”

    “Make no mistake, the unnecessary GOP shutdown will have serious consequences for millions,” she said, and after more than 40 fruitless votes to cripple or repeal Obamacare, “this Tea Party obsession… to kill the government and to deny healthcare to millions of Americans, this must end… This hostage-taking must end.”

    House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, was equally fiery in denouncing Obamacare. “It was passed in the middle of the night, 2,300 pages that nobody had ever read, and it’s having all kinds of consequences for our constituents, the American people,” Boehner said.

    “Something has to be done, so my Republican colleagues and I thought we should defund the law for a year,” he said, noting the Senate disagreed.

    But if the Obama administration has issued waivers and decided to delay enforcement of the employer mandate, why should ordinary Americans be stuck with a bill they can’t afford*, he asked. “It’s about fairness for the American people. Why don’t we make sure that every American is treated just like we are?”

    (Click here to read more about who’s footing what bills.)


    NorCal House Dems knock Obamacare repeal vote

    The House voted 229-195 today to repeal the “Obamacare” federal health care reforms enacted in 2010 – the 37th time that Republicans have tried to repeal or eliminate funding for the law.

    The only two Democrats to vote for H.R. 45 were Jim Matheson of Utah and Mike McIntyre of North Carolina, both of whom represent districts with heavy numbers of Republican voters yet are deemed “lean Democratic” – not “toss up” – by the Cook Political Report. No Republicans opposed the bill.

    Like its predecessors, this effort is DOA in the Democrat-dominated U.S. Senate. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, spoke in defense of the vote:

    “Today the House is voting to repeal the president’s health care law because it’s increasing the cost of health insurance, reducing access to care, and making it harder for small businesses to hire new workers. This is the third full repeal vote that we’ve had in the last three years, and some critics have suggested it’s a waste of time.

    “Well, while our goal is to repeal all of ObamaCare, I would remind you that the president has signed into law seven different bills that repealed or defunded parts of that law. Is it enough? No. Full repeal is needed to keep this law from doing more damage to our economy and raising health care costs.

    “But some progress has been made, and Republicans will continue to work to scrap the law in its entirety so we can focus on patient-centered reforms that lower costs and protect jobs. Because jobs is what this is all about.”

    Northern California’s House Democrats were – shocker! – having none of it. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, smack-talked the vote at her weekly news conference:

    “Here we are, 134 days into the 113th Congress, without one vote on a jobs bill. Fifty-four days after the Senate passed its budget, we still haven’t moved forward to the budget process with this do nothing agenda that does not reflect the priorities of the American people. It is an agenda that only the Republicans are interested in pursuing. So, you see a series of subterfuges, job evasions. Today’s job evasion is that the Republicans have decided to vote on the Patient’s Rights Repeal Act, their 37th attempt to repeal our country’s landmark reform bill. That’s 37 votes, 43 days, $52 million – $52.4 million – on an obvious evasion of our responsibility to work on the priorities of the American people.

    “Not only is this a clear waste of time, and of taxpayer dollars, it is a deliberate vote to eliminate the affordable, quality health care benefits millions of Americans are already enjoying.”

    Here’s Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Pleasanton:

    Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa, called it “a shameful waste of time and taxpayer dollars.”

    “Instead of spending more than $50 million to repeal a law that is saving lives and money, we should be working to improve our healthcare system and expand on the benefits the law provides,” Thompson said. “It’s time to put these political games aside. By building on the reforms made in the Affordable Care Act, we can make sure every American can afford to go to the doctor. And that’s what matters.”

    And Rep. Ami Bera, D-Rancho Cordova, said Americans “want Congress to focus on jobs, not waste time and taxpayer money voting 37 times to take away patient protections from middle class families.

    “The Supreme Court has ruled, and ACA is now law. It’s not perfect, and it’s not the law I would have proposed because it doesn’t do enough to address the cost of care, but we don’t want to go back to a time when children faced discrimination due to pre-existing conditions, when students and young adults were kicked off their parents’ insurance, and when women had to pay more for insurance than men just because of their gender,” he said. “Now we need to move past partisan bickering and start working on ways we can drive healthcare costs down. For years, we’ve been paying more and more for healthcare, and getting less and less. As a doctor and former Chief Medical Officer for Sacramento County, I know there are many places we can find savings.”


    Lawmakers tout free birth control under new law

    Some Bay Area lawmakers are highlighting the fact that effective today, the Affordable Care Act requires insurers to provide free, guaranteed preventative health care for women including contraception, HPV and HIV testing, domestic violence screening, breastfeeding support and supplies and more.

    “Beginning today, 47 million women across the country, including five million women in California, will now receive important preventive services without co-pay because of the new healthcare law,” Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, said in a news release. “With these new provisions, women will no longer need to forgo preventive services to stay healthy, catch potentially life-threatening illnesses earlier, and protect against prohibitive medical costs.”

    Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, spoke about it on the House floor:

    House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, and U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius co-authored an opinion piece in today’s edition of USA Today saying women no longer must choose between seeing a doctor for prevenative care and putting food on the table for their families.

    “(U)nder the health care law, we’re banning discrimination against women in the insurance market. In 2014, it will be illegal to deny coverage to someone because of her health status. And it will also be illegal to charge women more than men just because they’re women. In other words, being a woman will no longer be a pre-existing condition,” they wrote. “For too long, insurance companies stacked the deck against women, forcing us to pay more for coverage that didn’t meet our needs. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, a new day for women’s health has arrived.”

    The California Family Health Council estimates 99 percent of American women have used contraception at some point in their lives, despite an average out-of-pocket cost of $600 per year. The money women will save on birth control each year is equal to five weeks of groceries for a family of four, nine tanks of gas in a minivan, or one semester of college textbooks, the council says.

    “The policy being implemented today is a huge step forward for women’s health. The Obama Administration should be applauded for maintaining its commitment to breaking down barriers to accessing critical preventive services for women like contraception,” council president and CEO Julie Rabinovitz said in a news release. “Although there remain legal and political challenges to this new policy, these new benefits will make a real difference in the lives of women and families across the state and country.”