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Consumer scammers exploit Affordable Care Act sign-up

Media contact:

Debbie Johnson
Writer
University of Missouri Extension
Phone: 573-882-9183
Email: JohnsonD@missouri.edu

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013

Story source:

Brenda J. Procter, 573-882-3820

"Extension on the Go" podcast by Debbie Johnson. Episode 73: Affordable Care Act Scams

COLUMBIA, Mo. – There’s an arms race between consumers and the people who try to rip them off. The new battlefield is the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Banking on fear, uncertainty and doubt, scammers are working to separate you from your money, identity and health-care information.

“They’re using the Affordable Care Act, and the Oct. 1 sign-up date, to hook people and get them to give out personal information or make poor decisions,” said Brenda Procter, associate professor of consumer and family economics for University of Missouri Extension.

Some scammers are going after seniors.

“Companies are calling people who are on Medicare and talking about the Affordable Care Act, saying, ‘We need to make sure that everything’s good with your coverage. I need your…’ In some cases they ask for your Medicare number, which could lead to health insurance fraud, or they’ll ask for your Social Security number,” Procter said.

Another scam warns consumers that there’ll be mass chaos on Oct. 1, when consumers can begin signing up for health insurance through the ACA health insurance marketplace. Scammers offer sign-up options ahead of October to beat the rush. Procter says there’s no need for panic. The sign-up period to buy coverage for 2014 runs until March 31, so there’s plenty of time. (To have coverage as of Jan. 1, 2014, however, you will have until Dec. 15 to enroll.)

Be wary of offers for medical discount cards. While there may be some legitimate medical discount cards, some unscrupulous sellers make misleading or fraudulent claims about their products to separate consumers from their money. Now they’re using the ACA to try to cheat consumers.

“They’ll call consumers claiming that these discounts will help them meet the health insurance mandate. They will not,” Procter said. “Another thing they’ll do is once you buy the discount card, they’ll try to get you to pay money to become a distributor so you can sell these discount cards to your friends and family.”

There’s even a scam targeting Missourians through email.

“I’ve seen email from one company claiming they are ACA navigators and that they’re coming to Missouri,” Procter said. “Their website has virtually no company information and they claim they can help people avoid regulations imposed in Missouri. That’s a huge red flag.”

Even if a health insurance offer is legitimate, signing up outside the ACA marketplace could cost a consumer a lot of money.

“Under certain circumstances, you can get premium payment supports when you use the ACA marketplace,” Procter said. “Tax credits are available to help you pay for premiums if your income falls between 100 and 400 percent of the poverty level. But if you don’t use the marketplace you won’t be eligible for those credits.”

Legitimate offers or not, always protect your information. Never give out credit card and bank account numbers unless you know that the person and company are legitimate, Procter says. Above all, protect your Social Security number.

“Your Social Security number is critical because it follows you throughout your entire life,” she said. “If you give credit card or bank account numbers to the wrong person, you can close those accounts. You can never close down your Social Security number.”

The battle against scammers is ongoing, but there’s help available.

Procter recommends checking with the Missouri Department of Insurance (www.insurance.mo.gov) before you make any decision; if you feel you’ve been scammed, immediately contact the Missouri Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division (ago.mo.gov/consumercomplaint.htm).

Basic information about ACA and the health insurance marketplaces can be found at www.healthcare.gov or by calling 1-800-318-2596.

To help Missourians make informed decisions about health insurance options under the Affordable Care Act, MU Extension is providing information and educational resources through local programs and on the MU Extension Health Insurance Education Initiative website at extension.missouri.edu/insure.