WASHINGTON — The White House warned consumers Wednesday to beware of possible fraud by con artists taking advantage of the new insurance marketplaces being set up under President Obama’s health-care law.
The warning came amid reports of fraud, high-pressure sales tactics and efforts to obtain personal information from consumers in advance of the opening of the online markets known as insurance exchanges.
White House officials said consumers should be suspicious if anyone asked them for money to enroll in a health plan offered through an insurance exchange. Legitimate insurance counselors and “enrollment assisters” will not ask for money, they said.
And White House officials said Medicare beneficiaries did not need to sign up through an insurance exchange. Advocates for older Americans said many wrongly believed they needed to apply for coverage through the exchanges, scheduled to open Oct. 1.
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The White House warning, part of a coordinated effort by federal agencies to protect consumers, came several hours after a House committee issued a report describing “risks of fraud and misinformation” in efforts to enroll millions of low- and moderate-income people who are eligible for subsidized insurance on the exchanges.
The report expressed concern about the security of information that would be made available to insurance counselors who are supposed to educate consumers and help them enroll. The counselors, known as navigators, will often have access to Social Security numbers, dates of birth, home and email addresses, and income data for people seeking insurance, the report said.
Moreover, it said, “There are already reports from across the country that scam artists are attempting to impersonate navigators and assisters to steal credit card information and personally identifiable information in order to take advantage of massive confusion about Obamacare.”
But Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of health and human services, said, “We will not tolerate anyone seeking to defraud consumers in the health insurance marketplace.” Sebelius was at the White House on Wednesday with Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission officials to discuss ways to prevent, investigate and prosecute consumer fraud and privacy violations.
In the warning to consumers, Daniel Levinson, the inspector general at the Department of Health and Human Services, said anyone making unsolicited calls requesting personal information “may be trying to steal your identity.”