Election fallout ripples through anti-fraud world

Changes at the state and federal levels could affect enforcement

election-falloutWhile the shock of the national elections continues to be felt, the Coalition is sizing up the likely impact on fraud-fighting.

The biggest concern is whether the Trump administration will continue the federal government’s aggressive stand in combating healthcare fraud. FBI investigations and Department of Justice prosecutions have helped set records for arrests, convictions and financial recoveries in the last eight years.

Another potential concern is whether repealing the Affordable Care Act will gut anti-fraud programs that were part of the original bill. Medicare has much more capacity and authority to crackdown and prevent healthcare fraud today. Its ability to shut down scams quickly and use the latest technology such as predictive modeling could be in jeopardy.

Republicans also likely will push for interstate sales of health insurance. We’ve repeatedly warned that such an unregulated system will spur scam artists to sell fake policies to unsuspecting consumers.

Another potential casualty could be the Healthcare Fraud Prevention Partnership, an alliance of more than 60 private insurers and public agencies.

The partnership’s data-sharing program has helped save more than $260 million for healthcare payers. It would be foolish not to continue, but the program operates at the whim of the administration and HHS secretary. That’s one reason we advocated writing the program into federal law, but it’s too late for that now.

As for state elections, Wayne Goodwin, the insurance commissioner in North Carolina, lost his election. He’s a strong supporter of anti-fraud measures. Goodwin sponsors an effective fraud bureau, and chairs the NAIC Anti-Fraud Task Force.

The change of governors and insurance commissioners in other states, such as Delaware, also may affect law-enforcement efforts to combat fraud.

We’ll continue analyzing the federal and state results. We’ll report developments as they emerge. In the meantime, the Coalition stands ready to work with the new office holders to advocate strong measures that effectively combat insurance fraud.

About the author: Dennis Jay is executive director of the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud.

Fraud bills coming, start planning for 2017 now

Busy year possible, fraud fighters can help pass bills as trusted experts

Legislation_2017Voters will cast their Election Day ballots in a few days. We’re electing more than a President and members of Congress. A good number of state governors, insurance commissioners and legislators are on ballots as well.

They’ll barely be settled in when statehouses start opening for 2017. Quite a few fraud bills could be on tap — a lot of early chatter is making the rounds in several states.

Many policymakers know little or nothing about insurance fraud or how this crime damages their constituents. We’ll have many opportunities to convince state legislators to vote “yes” for bills that support fraud-fighting efforts.

I’ll share a secret that can open doors and increase your own impact.

But first, here’s what we know so far about 2017 — and more bills are sure to be introduced throughout the year. …

Restrict assignment of benefits. Insurers are concerned about contractors in Florida. Scofflaws inflate repair bills, and typically sue the insurer if the claims are denied or not paid quickly. All this happens behind the unsuspecting claimant’s back.

The vast damage damage caused by Hurricane Matthew will bring out legions of swindling contractors. That has vaulted the issue higher on insurer legislative agendas in the state.

Crashing staged crashes. Penalties for staging crashes in Nevada are pretty weak. The state AG is considering drafting a bill stiffening jail terms and fines. The Las Vegas area, especially, is a hotbed of crash rings and inflated whiplash claims.

Some rings target big-rig trucks. Current law does little to deter hardened fraud rings, many fraud fighters in the state believe. The AG is listening and may seek legislation to add more teeth in 2017, Coalition sources say.

Widening statute of limitations. Firming up the statute of limitations will be high on the Colorado AG’s 2017 agenda: Start the clock when the scam is discovered. The clock now runs for five years after the fraud occurred. The enhancement would be more realistic: The fraud crime often is detected well after it occurs. Also being looked at is adding insurance fraud as a crime to be covered under the state’s RICO, racketeering laws. Both would help the anti-fraud effort in the state.

More hotspot states. Look for action in Kentucky (expand immunity/information-sharing; limit access to crash reports; contractor cons). The Coalition is working with Kentucky fraud fighters to help strengthen the state’s anti-fraud laws … and New York (contractor scams and crash rings).

This is where fraud fighters come in. You need to start planning for 2017 right now. This means identifying current bills and the committees that will move the measures.

It also means thinking about introducing bills with friendly committee members or other legislators as the sponsors.

I’ve seen fraud bills start moving within days after the statehouse doors swung open. All the more reason to start thinking now.

Now about that secret — your impact in legislation is all about personal relationships. It’s the same principle you use so often to build close ties and contacts when pursuing fraud cases.

One fraud fighter I know convinced a state legislator to co-sponsor a bill simply by having a friendly chat about a fraud problem in his state. So few legislators know much about insurance crime in any real detail. You can be the trusted eyes and ears of legislators on scams that must be stopped to protect honest consumers.

You’ll have a strong leg up if lawmakers already know and trust your expertise as a frontliner. You can help educate them about an issue … weigh in about bill wording that makes sure the measures help shut down targeted scams.

You’ll find a great deal of support from the Coalition. I can personally assist in many ways — bill wording, overall bill strategy, effective talking points, helping set up meetings with key movers. You can easily reach me at Howard@InsuranceFraud.org with any ideas or questions.

More resources are tucked away on the Coalition’s website.

Check out suggested state legislation for laws other states enacted on your hot-button fraud issues. Auto rate evasion and tighter limits on using check-cashing stores in workers-comp scams are new additions. Model bills also take on crash-ring recruiters, immunity and other concerns.

Get involved through groups such as IASIU and NSPII. Check with me about what’s happeing in your state, and how you can get involved. 

Grassroots efforts work. You’re the roots of grassroots.  Once the November balloting is done, we’ll soon move into a election cycle: electing fraud laws. Let’s move fraud bills together as partners. We can pass smart fraud bills that are good for insurers, and right for the residents of your state.

About the author: Howard Goldblatt is director of government affairs for the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud.

Fraud fighters must get in legislative game

Play strong role in enacting stronger state fraud laws

Two truths will govern our success in getting strong state fraud laws onto the books: We must prepare our 2017 legislative agenda now; waiting until December or January is too late. Fraud fighters also can play a pivotal role in getting fraud bills on the front burner in many states.

We’re in an election year, with less than 90 days until we vote for a new president and Congress. We’ll also vote for quite a few state legislators, and a handful of governors.

We tend to be Washington-centric, thinking that who we put into the White House and Congress will affect us the most.

Actually, most of us are directly affected more by what happens in our state capitals than in Washington. Fraud fighters thus should be alert to creating opportunities in our own backyards.

The Coalition is using the summer to plan the states where there’s the  strongest need for new fraud laws — and a solid chance we can get bills enacted into law.

The Coalition’s government affairs committee meets this week to discuss the best hotspot states. Later this month, I’ll be on a conference call with state IASIU chapters. We’ll discuss the grassroots role that fraud fighters can play in writing their legislators in key target states next year.

The best way to convince insurers to make anti-fraud bills a priority in a given state is to make a business case why statehouse efforts are in everyone’s best interests.

Let me know if you think your state is a prime candidate for strong fraud bills in 2017. Partnerships among fraud fighters and other allies give us the best chance of success.

Together, we can make a difference.

About the author: Howard Goldblatt is director of government affairs for the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud.

Dodging auto premiums should be crime

Lying about garaging vehicles burdens honest drivers

Summer driving season is in full swing. It’s a reminder that dishonest drivers are illicitly registering their vehicles in states where premiums are lower. The Coalition is calling for states to go after these drivers.

Using out-of-state addresses to insure a car illegally reduces the driver’s auto premiums. It also burden honest insurance consumers who insure their vehicles with their real address. They may pay higher auto premiums thanks to drivers who cheat the system.

North Carolina was the first state to tackle this issue by requiring new insureds to show proof of residence before an insurer could write a policy. Out-of-staters were registering their vehicles in North Carolina for the lower auto premiums.

North Carolina recently went a step further and put more teeth in the existing law. Trucking firms are falsely registering their fleets in the state yet have no operations there. The new law requires businesses to prove they ply the roads in the Tar Heel state.

Falsely registering vehicles in New Jersey is a specific insurance crime.

The Coalition seeks a similar law in New York. Bills have stalled, though we and our partners there are planning to reboot in 2017.

A Maryland bill would’ve let insurers rescind policies of drivers who falsely registered their vehicles in the state. The state held a public meeting. An insurer told about a claimed loss in Maryland by an insured who lived in New York — where the insurer doesn’t write coverage. The insurer paid the claim to avoid a baseless yet potentially costly bad-faith suit.

The statehouse will revisit legislation in 2017.

The Coalition strongly supports targeting auto rate evasion. Tough state laws can remove a driver’s incentive to take the risk.  Consumers who lie about where they drive to lower their auto premiums add burdens to the many thousands of honest drivers. This undermines the integrity of the auto-insurance system.

Fraud fighters have taken the forefront on this issue. Stay alert to auto-premium evasion in your state. Tell the Coalition and your state insurance department. Falsely registering a vehicle should be a ticket to jail, not an easy source of summer spending money.

About the author: Howard Goldblatt is director of government affairs for the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud.

New fraud laws start with open dialogue

Md. public meeting helped focus on needed reforms

Last week I took part in a public meeting the Maryland Insurance Administration held in Baltimore to review anti-frauds effort in the state. Part of the discussion surrounded anti-fraud bills that stalled this year when the 2016 session closed in mid-April.

The state insurance commissioner Al Redmer Jr. chaired the meeting. He stayed the entire time. He went beyond simply giving an opening statement, then handing the meeting to the fraud unit’s chief. Redmer’s lengthy presence showed a strong interest in strengthening state’s anti-fraud efforts.

I called for the state to redouble its efforts to target drivers who lie where they garage their cars to illicitly lower their auto premiums.

Maryland drivers should register and insure their vehicles in the state. Similarly, out-of-state drivers should pay a steep penalty for lying that they drive and garage their vehicles in Maryland to lower their auto premiums.

Maryland should be applauded for last week’s effort. The session started dialogue for targeting auto-premium evasion and other insurance crimes. This could spark renewed pushes for anti-fraud legislation next year. The 2017 legislative session opens in January.

Other states can learn from sessions like this one. A state’s anti-fraud effort is organic. Fraud fighters and the insurance department must continually review its direction and impact. No state should rest on its laurels, thinking it’s doing a great job. Nor should a state grow reluctant to act, believing the anti-fraud environment can’t be changed so why talk about it.

Maybe such a meeting in New York could help break up the logjam in Albany that has stalled so many worthwhile anti-fraud measures in recent years. Or, a state like Oregon which has no insurance fraud law or anti-fraud infrastructure. Imagine what the insurance departments and governors would learn if they held such meetings. Same with Michigan, which needs a fraud bureau.

More often than not, legislatures act in a vacuum when they look at anti-fraud laws. Too often they’re pulled in several directions, making it hard to focus on enacting anti-fraud laws.

Fraud fighters should assume leadership and start action-driven dialogue. Reach out to the state insurance department, insurance commissioner and state attorney general. Co-sponsor open meetings to review their state’s fraud trends, and where new fraud laws are needed.

These joint efforts can go a long way toward enacting needed laws and regulations that make a state’s anti-fraud efforts stronger than ever.

About the author: Howard Goldblatt is director of government affairs for the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud.

Anti-fraud efforts removed from MLR

Keeping in MLR improves healthcare for everyone

Health insurer anti-fraud expenses will be left from the Medical Loss Ratio  in a rule released by the feds. This decision deals with Medicaid managed care, and frustrated state and federal fraud busters. The impact will spread throughout the world of healthcare.

First, a short history: The Affordable Care Act requires health insurers to spend 80 or 85 percent of costs on claims and health services. This limits how much insurers can spend to run the business.

Regulators were left to decide what insurer expenses will be included in the MLR. The Coalition and other fraud fighters diligently tried to show federal and state regulators why anti-fraud expenses should be included. Effective fraud fighting is directly linked to the quality of healthcare that consumers receive in many cases.

What makes this decision a bit grating is that federally funded health programs like Medicaid are required to have anti-fraud efforts. Yet those expenses are excluded from the MLR, and thus, health plans have little incentive to invest more in combating fraud.

This decision has impact well beyond state-federal Medicaid.

States usually look to the feds for guidance when writing their own regulations. If the feds exclude fraud expenses from the MLR, then states will be reluctant as well.

We’ve urged insurance regulators to include the MLR. They’re often sympathetic, yet gamely stick to excluding anti-fraud expenses.

Fraud fighting is essential to quality patient care; this isn’t mere overhead. Scams often harm patients with worthless and botched treatments that also can max out their policy limits. Stopping money-draining schemes also helps reduce the cost of health services. This benefits everyone.

That’s the rub. Fraud fighters know that good anti-fraud efforts reduce healthcare costs and improve services. Yet regulators stubbornly stay reluctant to even consider including anti-fraud expenses in the MRL.

It’s time for fraud fighters to speak out, and tell regulators and policymakers that fraud-fighting expense should be included in the cost of paying healthcare claims.

About the author: Howard Goldblatt is director of government affairs for the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud.

Pay me now or …

Police are responding less and less to minor auto accidents

If you crash cars for a living in New Orleans, your life may be getting a bit easier.

Thanks to a bill in the state legislature, police in the Crescent City may no longer be required to respond to fender benders. If you’re involved in a minor accident, just head over to your local police station, give them the details, and they’ll  hand you an accident report you can use to file your insurance claim.

Crashers will no longer need to  stage a collision. Just report it. How convenient.

The bill aims to relieve the cash-strapped city so police can focus more on violent and more-serious crimes. Responding to some 14,000 minor accidents each year is a drain on city resources, according to news reports.

That argument is hard to argue with. And it’s one that more and more jurisdictions are grappling with as cities continue struggling with adequate funding for police.

The extra dollars residents likely will pay in auto premiums rarely gets discussed in these deliberations. It’s a hidden tax that’s better spent paying for more police.

So while fraud fighters likely won’t win this policy battle, they can try to minimize the losses by educating the public and beefing up anti-fraud training of claims reps.

Pay now or pay later. Either way, this legislation will cost taxpayers and consumers.

About the author: Dennis Jay is executive director of the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud.

Tag team is winning formula for fraud bills

Investigators wield impact as expert constituent voices

A couple of years ago I blogged about how fraud investigators can be key to enacting strong fraud laws.

The state legislative season is heating up, so let’s revisit. We need to think of how to mobilize for action.

Lobbying legislators can be top-down and bottom-up.

Top-down involves national groups like the Coalition or insurers raising the issues with legislators. Often we testify before committees or the full chamber. That carries weight. We discuss the big picture, and how a state bill is good (or bad) for combating fraud from a larger viewpoint.

The bottom-up approach is the grassroots level. Investigators and other frontliners can take a lead role.

Investigators can wield great influence. State lawmakers listen to constituents. Local people put a local face on fraud bills. Investigators also are respected crime-fighting experts. That voice speaks convincingly to lawmakers. They may know little about a fraud bill — or the crime it combats.

A tag team is the best formula for rallying support for fraud laws: Local investigators work with national groups like the Coalition. We all bring vital strengths to the table.

State legislators usually don’t receive letters or messages about fraud issues. So when an investigator writes a letter, that could be the first time a legislator hears about the fraud bill, and why it’s good for the state.

This leads to my Rule of Five. One constituent letter raises few eyebrows in a legislator’s office. Five letters, and the legislator thinks about the issue. And 25 letters signals a groundswell of support. That can convince a legislator to support a fraud bill.

Enacting strong fraud laws has four positive goals. 1) Create an infrastructure for insurers to investigate and report scams; 2) Give fraud fighters laws and regs that are pillars for chasing down swindlers; 3) Oppose weak bills that undermine the fraud fight; and 4) Educate lawmakers about the benefits of strong fraud laws.

Together, our influence can place more fraud laws onto the books. We will educate lawmakers about how strong fraud laws benefit consumers throughout a state.

So let’s add a fifth goal for fraud laws: Empower consumers and insurers to better fight back against insurance fraud.

About the author: Howard Goldblatt is director of government affairs for the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud.

Oregon needs insurance-fraud law

Would court rule against an insurer if Oregon had fraud law?

Oregon fraud failNearly every state in the union has made insurance fraud a specific crime. Oregon and Virginia are the only states without a specific insurance fraud law.

At least Virginia has a fraud unit, housed within the state police. There are robust investigations, and prosecutors use the state’s false pretense law to convict scammers.

Oregon has little anti-fraud infrastructure to call on. The governor vetoed a bill back in 1997 because it wasn’t “good enough.” Efforts to make fraud a specific crime have been garaged ever since.

And here’s the fallout: An Oregon appellate court recently ordered an insurer to pay a $10-million loss after a claimant’s expensive home burned down. The insurer suspected a misrepresentation that could’ve been fraud. The insurer refused payout, and a lower court agreed.

My first reaction was that the appellate court wouldn’t have required that payout if the state had a robust insurance fraud law. An insurance-fraud law would’ve allowed the insurer to investigate, and refer the case to a prosecutor if it suspected fraud. Instead, the court decided the claim had to be paid, without a whiff of looking at whether fraud was involved.

Some 48 states plus Washington, D.C. have insurance-fraud laws, and for the most part, they work well. They all reference willfully misrepresenting or filing a false claim. Insurers thus have a potent tool for seeking justice when they suspect a false claim. Fraud laws adroitly cover willful and knowing lies about a claim and loss.

The Oregon case involved, among other things, the cost of chandeliers destroyed by the fire. The insurer believed the claimant had misrepresented by inflating the cost of those chandeliers.

Insurance fraud laws protect insurers and consumers from schemes. Insurers can keep premiums down if convictions can help reduce pass-along cost that scams impose.

Oregon has no insurance-fraud law, dedicated fraud prosecutors, or even a state agency to lead investigations. Instead, we have state courts coming down with questionable decisions like the latest one.

It’s high time Oregon joins the rest of the nation by making insurance fraud a specific crime.

About the author: Howard Goldblatt is director of government affairs for the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud.

Drone for anti-fraud cases ready to fly high

Laws and regs should allow legitimate use of insurer surveillance

drone photoDrone use has left the launch pad and is increasing rapidly. Insurers are showing a big interest in drones for anti-fraud operations, underwriting and claims handling.

The feds and states are working to impose order on the evolving dronescape. Recreational users soon will have to register their machines. The Department of Transportation is creating task force with the Federal Aviation Administration to develop a registration system.

Using these little eyes in the skies for anti-fraud operations and other functions is drawing considerable attention in statehouses as well. Privacy is the main issue driving drone debates, says the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Some 45 states considered more than 100 drone bills and inked 20 laws this year alone.

Several bills also required law enforcement to obtain search warrants for drone use. Others were skyway-safety measures limiting where drones can be used (e.g., away from commercial airports).

These bills harken back a decade or more when states began imposing stricter control of video surveillance.

A New York bill, for instance, tried to make it a crime for insurers to shoot surveillance video unless they had permission of the persons being filmed. Critics said the language was so broad it would’ve criminalized tourists filming the sights and sounds of Times Square.

Most state legislation during this time recognized a legitimate insurer purpose in using surveillance video. Society struck a rational balance between allowing crime-fighting while protecting people’s privacy.

New York is back again with another potentially over-reaching surveillance bill. Unless it’s carefully worded, it could put the kibosh on legitimate insurer drone use for anti-fraud operations.

The national debates over proper drone use are gaining steam. Protecting privacy rights will be a major aspect of the debates once again. Rules and limits will be imposed. Upcoming laws, regulations and court decisions also must allow legitimate insurer use of drone surveillance to protect society from insurance schemes.

It’s time to fly high with a national dialogue on insurer drone use. And fraud fighters should be front and center.

About the author: Howard Goldblatt is director of government affairs for the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud.