‘Illicit’ health insurance marketplace site ordered to close
New Hampshire officials ordered the closure this week of a website they said was masquerading as the new health insurance marketplace site for the state.
The New Hampshire Insurance Department issued a cease-and-desist notice Wednesday to William Steffen, an Arizona-based insurance broker who owned the site NewHampshireHealthExchange.com.
New Hampshire consumers who want to purchase insurance plans through the Affordable Care Act, which offers tax credits and subsidies, must use the federal HealthCare.gov website, because the state has not built its own.
A small-business owner in Keene alerted state officials to the site after he found it while looking for information about how much plans on the new exchange might cost his employees, said Richard McCaffrey, enforcement counsel for the Insurance Department.
The business owner submitted a form on the site and received a follow-up call from someone selling insurance policies, McCaffrey said. When the business owner resisted purchasing plans that day, the caller became aggressive and eventually hung up, McCaffrey said.
If New Hampshire were to pursue legal action against Steffen, it would be based on the deceptive name and nature of the website and the efforts to sell insurance in a state where he doesn’t hold a license, McCaffrey said.
Insurance regulators in South Dakota are also investigating complaints against Steffen. They and McCaffrey have been in contact with regulators in Arizona, where Steffen is licensed.
“I wouldn’t speculate, but there often gets to be a critical mass of activity out there that results in people losing their licenses,” McCaffrey said.
The site did have disclaimers, but McCaffrey said they were not easy to find or read.
“This was someone who had above-average information, a relatively sophisticated health insurance consumer, who was fooled by the site,” McCaffrey said.
McCaffrey’s department is also investigating another site, which he would not name before action is taken.
A third site, HealthCare.com, is still active. It is registered through a domain licensing company in Florida, and offers insurance plans for sale.
However, the information there about the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s signature legislative effort, is outdated and no tax credits or subsidies are available to defray the premiums or other out-of-pocket costs a person may incur with any of the plans for sale there.
Those benefits can only be secured by purchasing a plan through the actual marketplace, at HealthCare.gov.
“We’re not surprised by this,” McCaffrey said. “There’s a lot of potential for confusion and it’s the nature of people who want to do illicit things to try to take advantage of these situations.”
A man who answered the phone at Steffen Financial yesterday would not identify himself or comment on the website.
(Sarah Palermo can be reached at 369-3322 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SPalermoNews.)