Insurance companies nationwide flood the internet with ads during open enrollment, which this year runs from
"Information presented online can be very deceptive and very misleading," Casey said during a recent conference call to discuss an investigation his staff conducted of online health insurance advertising. "Very smart, capable people can easily be misled."
Earlier this year, Casey's staff searched online common phrases used by consumers seeking health insurance, including "cheap health insurance," "health insurance," "healthcare.gov," "affordable health insurance," and "Obamacare." They were bombarded with advertisements, which often appeared above the search results for the official ACA site.
The ads sometimes include deceptive names and descriptions that make it hard to differentiate between an advertisement and the official site. For instance, some sites use the word "healthcare" in their name, but change the domain extension -- common extensions include .com, .org and .net -- at the end of the name. The government's official ACA website is found at www.healthcare.gov. His staff found a website at www.healthcare.org that deceptively advertised itself as the "official site/health insurance marketplace."
The ACA mandates insurance plans meet certain minimum standards, including providing coverage for preexisting conditions, maternity care and emergency room visits. The plans also have limits on lifetime out-of-pocket expenses.
Those provisions provide consumers protections, said
"Probably the most important feature of the law is it ensures people with preexisting conditions will not lose coverage, be denied coverage or be charged more for coverage," Woodhouse said.
The law was modified in 2016, to allow the purchase of short-term, limited duration health plans to accommodate people who may be between jobs or who need stopgap coverage for a limited time. Those plans can have lower premiums, but purchasers run a risk of higher out-of-pocket expenses.
Casey acknowledged some consumers may prefer those plans. He said there is increasing concern some people are enticed into buying them without being fully advised of their limits.
"People have a right to make a decision for themselves," he said. "All we are trying to do is make sure they have all the information."
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