The Affordable Care Act's first open enrollment period is set to end on March 31.
As with any new, large-scale program, fraudsters and identity thieves may try to take advantage of consumers who may be unfamiliar with the specifics of Obamacare.
Since the enrollment period began in October of last year, the Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ), the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance (OCI), the Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection (DATCP), and the Department of Health Services (DHS) have been working together, and with other states and federal agencies, to identify fraudulent schemes and protect consumers from them.
Of particular concern is the potential for fraudulent telemarketers and web sites designed to obtain consumers' personal information or steal their money.
"Considering the scale of the Affordable Care Act rollout, the state's Bureau of Consumer Protection received few complaints about scams," said Sandy Chalmers, DATCP Administrator for Trade and Consumer Protection. "If Wisconsin consumers believe they have been targeted by a fraudulent health care pitch, file a complaint with DATCP so we can take immediate action."
"The best way to protect yourself from fraud is to be prepared," said Insurance Commissioner Ted Nickel. "There are literally thousands of people who can help you in the final days of open enrollment, but you need to take the time to check them out. I urge you to take advantage of all the resources the state of Wisconsin has put together to help protect you."
"We suspect fraudsters may emerge in the final weeks of the Affordable Care Act's enrollment," Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said. "My office stands ready to support local law enforcement agencies around the state to stop those who violate the law."
You can protect yourself by taking a few precautions:
- Check with the Wisconsin Office of the Commissioner of Insurance. The best way to protect yourself from insurance fraud is to research the agent and company you're considering. Always stop before writing a check, signing a contract or giving out personal information. Call the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance and confirm that the agent and company are licensed to write insurance in Wisconsin. OCI's contact information is:
Phone: (800) 236-8517, statewide
- Verify the legitimacy of websites you visit. Using search engines may lead you to fraudulent websites if you are not careful. A good practice is to type the name of the website you want into your browser window rather than merely searching for information about the Affordable Care Act. The official site is www.healthcare.gov. Other federal and state governmental websites provide links to legitimate sites related to the Affordable Care Act.
- Keep good records. Keep a record of everyone who assists you, for whom they work, their telephone number, address, e-mail address and website.
- Think before signing. Don't sign anything you don't fully understand.
- Be suspicious. Are you being asked to transact business in an unusual way-for example by using a money order or by buying a money card? Stop, call and confirm. Also note, insurance discount cards are not the same as insurance.
- Don't give in to high pressure tactics. Threats, limited time offers or misinformation about Medicare are "red flags." You cannot go to jail for failing to enroll in the Affordable Care Act. If you are on Medicare, you do not need to enroll in the Affordable Care Act or re-apply for Medicare.
If you are unsure about the legitimacy of any entity attempting to assist with ACA enrollment, check with the Wisconsin Office of the Commissioner of Insurance (OCI). OCI licenses anyone authorized to engage in the business of insurance in Wisconsin, and OCI can verify the legitimacy of anyone purporting to be trained to help enroll people in the Affordable Care Act.
And if you suspect criminal activity, contact local law enforcement or contact the Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection (DATCP) at 1-800-422-7128.