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Financial fraud related to Obamacare surfaces in Iowa

September 22, 2013, Des Moines, IA — Iowans should be wary of strangers offering to help them sign up for Obamacare, the state’s top insurance regulator said Saturday.

“We’re starting to see in the state, unfortunately, some fraud activity,” Insurance Commissioner Nick Gerhart said at a forum in Des Moines.

He said Iowa officials have heard radio ads and seen fliers that falsely say sign-ups have already begun for the new health insurance marketplaces. The idea, apparently, is to trick people into giving up personal information that could be used to embezzle, he said.

Gerhart said the would-be swindlers appear to be more prevalent in Southern states, although some have cropped up here. Many of the scams appear to be targeting the elderly, even though those people generally do not need to sign up for new insurance plans because they already have Medicare.

He urged the public to share personal information only with people they trust, such as relatives, close friends, government-certified insurance “navigators” or counselors, or licensed insurance agents. No one should be coming to Iowans’ homes out of the blue and encouraging them to sign up for insurance plans, he said.

If Iowans see such suspicious activity, Gerhart said, they should call the Iowa Insurance Division to report it. “We need to make sure that those people get put out of business,” he said.

The number to call is 515-281-5705.

The commissioner gave the warnings during the first of a series of forums his agency is holding statewide to explain the coming changes in insurance due to the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

Sue Sowden of Des Moines, who was in the audience, said she could see how people might believe a con artist’s lies about being involved in Obamacare sign-ups.

“Maybe somebody’s heard just a little bit about it, and then they get a phone call or a flier offering to help, and they could be like, ‘Oh, I hoped someone would come out to me,’ ” said Sowden, who was glad the commissioner is alerting the public to the potential problem.

Sowden was one of more than 80 people who came to the meeting to hear Gerhart and other state officials go over details of the program and answer questions.

One of the biggest developments will be the Oct. 1 opening of the government’s new online health insurance marketplaces, also called exchanges. The systems will be aimed mainly at helping consumers who are uninsured or who buy their own insurance instead of obtaining it through an employer or government programs such as Medicaid or Medicare.

Many people with low or moderate incomes will qualify for federal subsidies toward the purchase of private policies on the exchanges. In some cases, those subsidies could amount to several thousand dollars per year.

The commissioner said he had not yet seen the new computerized system in action. He’s been assured that using it should be fairly straightforward.

However, he noted, people will need to put in such things as financial information, and he said they should carefully check to see if insurance plans cover their doctors and their regular medications.

He advised people to seek help if they’re unsure about their choices. He also noted that there will be a way to file a paper application instead of going online.

Gerhart said the massive new computer system could suffer some glitches, but he said people should not panic or get discouraged if such complications arise over the next few weeks.


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