Howard County Department of Citizen Services is warning Medicare recipients and residents who qualify for health coverage through the new health care exchanges of misleading and possible illegal offers of help, according to a county government news release Tuesday.
"While Medicare, Medicaid and the new health exchanges provide more people with the opportunity to obtain health insurance, they also afford con artists with an opportunity to take advantage of people who are looking for help navigating those systems," said Lois Mikkila, Director of the Department of Citizen Services.
"Unscrupulous offers of 'help' come with a price tag that consumers don't need to pay. Sadly, people who aren't aware of the free and reliable assistance that is available through state and local agencies often become the targets of unethical or illegal offers."
The department has already received several reports of misleading and illegal conduct related to both Medicare open enrollment and enrollment for health coverage under the federal Affordable Care Act, according to the release.
The Department's Office on Aging learned of two women who visited the home of a Medicare beneficiary without the beneficiary's permission, according to the release.
The business card offered to the beneficiary asked, "Do You Need Insurance?" and stated that the women could help find available and affordable Medicare plans, according to the release. The cards did not list the name of a business, and when the listed numbers were called by a Maryland Department of Aging representative, the voicemail provided only the name of the woman, according to the release.
"Such door-to-door and telephone 'cold calls' are prohibited under federal law," said Dayna Brown, administrator of the Office on Aging. "Residents should be weary of solicitors whose business cards lack adequate information."
Consumers can contact the county's State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) office at 410-313-7392 to report suspicious health insurance offers and/or to receive help in deciding what, if any, supplemental insurance programs might be needed.
The County's Office of Consumer Affairs also received an email from an insurance agent offering to help people "obtain affordable health insurance."
The email implied that consumers need to sign up for coverage by Jan. 1, 2014 or will be charged a penalty. However, penalties will not be assessed until the end of the enrollment period on March 31, 2014.
"While the sender is a licensed agent and is certified by the state to be a health care navigator, we are concerned about such errors. Misinformation about the deadline for coverage can create a sense of urgency that may result in consumers making hasty and costly decisions," said Rebecca Bowman, administrator of the Office of Consumer Affairs.
The agent has agreed to correct the information, according to the release.
Certified navigators are prohibited from charging for their services and from offering private insurance products while helping clients enroll with an exchange.