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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 »

    Honda’s endorsers & Khanna’s ‘digital advocates’

    The battle for the 17th Congressional District continues as Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose, rolls out a new batch of endorsements and Democratic challenger Ro Khanna fires up his digital grassroots.

    honda.jpgHonda on Tuesday announced the endorsements of state Senate President pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg, Assembly Speaker John Perez, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, Controller John Chiang, Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, Treasurer Bill Lockyer, Board of Equalization member Betty Yee, and 14 current and former state lawmakers. He’d previously announced he has Attorney General Kamala Harris’ endorsement, while Khanna last month announced he has Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s nod.

    Perez said Honda “has been a thoughtful and effective leader, with a distinguished track record of bringing both parties together to find solutions for the very difficult challenges facing our country. Our state is lucky to have such a phenomenal representative fighting for us in Congress, and I am proud to support him for reelection.”

    And Torlakson said Honda “is working to improve science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education in our classrooms, which will provide our children with a 21st century education and keep our country a leader in the global economy. I am proud to support Mike’s campaign for Congress and look forward to continue working with him to ensure that each and every child has the opportunity to get a quality education.”

    Honda said he’s grateful for the state officials’ support: “We will continue working together for quality jobs, good schools, and a bright future for California’s families.”

    Ro KhannaMeanwhile, Khanna is continuing his effort to “bridge the gap of digital and traditional involvement” by inviting people to become “digital advocates” to spread word of his campaign throughout Silicon Valley. The campaign’s first digital training for volunteers is scheduled for 7 to 9 p.m. tonight, Tuesday, May 7, at 43255 Mission Blvd. in Fremont; more trainings will be held in the coming months.

    And Khanna will hold a meet-and-greet to answer district residents’ questions at noon this Friday, May 10, at 3333 Bowers Ave., Suite 130 in Santa Clara.

    Posted on Tuesday, May 7th, 2013
    Under: 2014 primary, Assembly, California State Senate, Darrell Steinberg, Gavin Newsom, John Chiang, John Perez, Kamala Harris, Mike Honda, Tom Torlakson, U.S. House | 13 Comments »

    Kamala Harris names Oakland attorney to FPPC

    An Oakland attorney has been named to California’s political watchdog agency by state Attorney General Kamala Harris.

    Eric Casher, 34, will serve a four-year term on the Fair Political Practices Commission.

    Casher practices law at Meyers Nave in Oakland; he serves on the boards of the California Bar Foundation and the Charles Houston Bar Association, and in 2011 was recognized by the National Bar Association as one of the “Nation’s Best Advocates, 40 Under 40.” He earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology from UC-Berkeley and a law degree from the UC Hastings College of the Law.

    Also, Casher chaired a Young Professionals Finance Committee for Harris’ 2010 campaign for attorney general and, like Harris, was an active supporter of and fundraiser for President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign.

    “Eric’s commitment to justice, fairness and the rule of law will make him a strong asset on the Fair Political Practices Commission,” Harris said in a news release. “The people of California will be well-served by his diligence and his judgment.”

    The five-member FPPC adopts and amends political and campaign-finance regulations, helps agencies and officials with record-keeping and reporting, maintains economic-interest records and investigates and punishes violations of the Political Reform Act. The governor appoints two commissioners, and the remaining three appointments are made by the state attorney general, the secretary of state and the state controller.

    Posted on Monday, March 11th, 2013
    Under: campaign finance, Kamala Harris | 1 Comment »

    What they’re saying about the governor’s budget

    From Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles:

    “This is a proposal that clearly shows California has turned the corner. The Governor’s budget is sober, restrained and forward thinking, and I believe it’s a solid foundation for the budget process. I am looking forward to thorough and insightful public hearings as we work with the Governor to adopt the final budget by our Constitutional deadline.”

    From California Republican Party Chairman Tom Del Beccaro:

    “It’s easy for Gov. Brown to tout austerity and fiscal restraint when he has more of the taxpayers’ money in his pocket. His challenge will be to follow through on those promises when the economy continues to stagnate and the Democrats’ pie-in-the-sky projections don’t come to pass. That’s why Republican legislative leadership correctly proposed this week for the Governor to mandate that his new Prop 30 taxes fund our classrooms and protect our communities.

    “What’s disappointing about Gov. Brown’s announcement is that job creation was never mentioned. Cutting the regulatory burden was ignored. Working with Republicans to unify the state is sadly not part of his agenda. In order for California to finally emerge from its economic doldrums and enter a new Golden Age, the answer lies with policies that encourage job growth and unleash the innovation of small business owners, not with budget wrangling and deferred payments that mask billions in debt to the federal government for unemployment insurance and more.

    “We need bold reforms to go hand in hand with accountability and responsible fiscal governance if we want to return California and its citizens to prosperity. If Jerry Brown thinks we’re out of the woods just because, on paper, we’ll finally be ‘living within our means,’ he’s sadly mistaken.”

    From state Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mark Leno, D-San Francisco:

    “The budget proposal released today by Governor Brown is the most positive one we have seen in half a decade. The budget is narrowly balanced and contains elements that ensure a modest reserve. However, it reflects the difficult cuts and decisions the Legislature and Governor have made in the past few years to address the state’s structural budget deficit. It also demonstrates the confidence entrusted in us by voters in November who recognized that our fiscal situation was untenable without new temporary revenues. Although we are still under fiscal constraints, I am hopeful we are now past the period of devastating cuts we saw in previous years to education and programs that provide critical aid to elderly Californians, disabled people and working families.

    “With the improvement of our fiscal outlook comes the opportunity to continue our work to restore California. While our recent efforts have focused largely on making cuts in the least harmful manner possible, we will now have more capacity to refine our work to improve essential programs and analyze the role of government and its effectiveness. I look forward to working with Governor Brown and my colleagues in the Legislature to evaluate this year’s budget to help ensure it is the best possible plan for a state on the mend.”

    From state Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar:

    “New funding for our classrooms is a positive step forward for California. However, the Governor’s budget only seems to include $2.7 billion in new funding for K-12 schools and community colleges even though Proposition 30 taxes will generate $6 billion this year alone – Californians should be disappointed.

    “I remain concerned that while state spending is being increased by $5 billion over last year, much of this money is used to expand state programs and provides major pay and benefit increases for state employees.

    “Basically, this budget is balanced by a $50 billion tax increase, and Californians have yet to see any real, long-term plan to bring back jobs and help our struggling families.”

    More, after the jump…
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted on Thursday, January 10th, 2013
    Under: Assembly, Bob Wieckowski, California State Senate, Gavin Newsom, Jerry Brown, John Perez, Kamala Harris, Loni Hancock, Mark DeSaulnier, Mark Leno, Rob Bonta, state budget | No Comments »