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ADVISORY ON DECEPTIVE MARKETING OF HEALTH PLANS from Attorney General Martha Coakley

The landmark Massachusetts health reform is fast approaching a key deadline: all residents 18 or older must be enrolled in a health plan by December 31st or face a penalty on their 2007 state income taxes.

As uninsured people scramble to find a health plan that fits their budget and meets their medical needs, it’s important to be wary of mass-marketed offers that seem too good to be true. For example:

• A fax received at work or at home promises health insurance—including prescription, dental, hospital and doctor visit coverage—for as little as $89.50 a month;

• A call from a telemarketer promotes a limited-time offer for a health plan with comprehensive coverage at very low cost, but pressures the consumer to pay an immediate enrollment fee in order to receive plan information;

• An internet search for affordable health insurance leads to web pages for low-cost plans that promise access to thousands of doctors, hospitals and pharmacies across the nation.

Offers like these should raise a red flag.

Some companies sell discount cards that are not actually insurance, leaving patients with huge medical bills. The enormous provider networks offered by other companies may turn out to be an empty promise, as consumers discover that listed providers never agreed to join the network.

All legitimate insurance companies should be approved by the insurance commissioner to do business in Massachusetts. To verify that a company is a licensed insurer, check with the Division of Insurance by calling 617-521-7777.

Also, look out for companies that require you to pay a fee before you see any plan information. Never give personal financial information to a telemarketer or sales representative who is a stranger to you. Otherwise, you may soon discover that funds are being withdrawn from your bank account. If you think you have been victimized by a dishonest sales representative, contact the Attorney General’s Health Care Division at 888-830-6277.

And remember, if the low cost of a health plan seems too good to be true, it probably is. Look beyond low premium costs and add up how much you will have to pay out of pocket because of deductibles, co-payments, or limits on coverage. High out of pocket costs can quickly wipe out the savings the low premiums.

Choosing a health plan is one the most important decisions you will make. Shop wisely and be certain you get what you pay for.

Martha Coakley
Massachusetts Attorney General

This program aired on December 22, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.

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