SAN FRANCISCO -- Attorney General Kamala D. Harris today announced the removal of ten private health insurance websites that misled Californians by imitating Covered California, the state’s official insurance marketplace for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). Attorney General Harris also released tips to help consumers avoid insurance scams.
“These websites fraudulently imitated Covered California in order to lure consumers away from plans that provide the benefits of the Affordable Care Act,” Attorney General Harris said. “My office will continue to investigate and shut down these kinds of sites. I urge Californians to avoid healthcare scams by visiting coveredca.com.”
In September, the California Attorney General’s office began an investigation into websites that imitate the state’s Covered California website (www.coveredca.com). Multiple website operators were sent cease and desist letters informing them that their websites were in violation of state law and demanding the immediate removal of the website or transfer of the domain name to the state’s official exchange.
These websites were operated by private health insurance brokers or companies that were not affiliated with Covered California. The websites have domain names similar to the state’s official healthcare exchange and contain unauthorized references to the official exchange’s trademarked logo and name. In several cases, websites used the phrases “Get Covered,” “Covered California” and “California Health Benefit Advisers.”
The California Affordable Care Act forbids individuals or entities from claiming to provide services on behalf of Covered California without securing a valid agreement with the State Exchange. (Gov. Code, § 100510.) State law also prohibits solicitations that falsely imply a governmental connection (Bus. & Prof. Code, § 17533.6), the use of a domain name that is confusingly similar to another entity (Bus. & Prof. Code, § 17525), making or disseminating untrue or misleading representations with the intent of selling goods or services (Bus. & Prof. Code, § 17500) and unfair competition through untrue or misleading advertising (Bus. & Prof. Code, § 17200).
To date, all website operators who have been contacted by the Attorney General’s office have complied, and the following websites have been either deactivated or redirected to the official exchange website:
The California Health Benefit Exchange is charged with implementing the ACA and is the operator of California’s online health insurance marketplace known as Covered California. California consumers who purchase health insurance policies through this marketplace receive protections guaranteed by the ACA that may not exist in policies outside of the exchange.
Health insurance plans sold outside the official exchange on the individual market before January 1, 2014 do not qualify for federal subsidies and do not have the guarantees provided by the ACA’s consumer protection provisions. Major consumer protections include: no denials based on preexisting conditions; no rating differences based on factors other than age, geography, and family size; issuers may not impose any annual dollar limits for covered services; and all qualified plans must cover essential health benefits identified under the ACA.
The California Attorney General’s Health, Education and Welfare Section, in conjunction with Covered California and the California Department of Insurance, will continue to monitor these and other potentially fraudulent sites.
To avoid scams related to California’s health insurance marketplace, Attorney General Harris has released the following tips for consumers:
To contact Covered California directly, call (800) 300-1506 or email email@example.com
Assistance by phone is also available in the following languages: