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‘Consumers beware’

Misrepresentation alleged at healthcare fairs

By Donald Barnes and Zenobia Jeffries
The Michigan Citizen

DETROIT — Buyers beware. This is the message some health insurance agents are sending to consumers in search of health care choices.

With the advent of the online Health Insurance Marketplace, a component under the Affordable Care Act, sometimes known as Obamacare, those who are uninsured or who wish to change their insurance provider can choose from a range of insurance options.

Advocates of Obamacare, have worried, however, about unofficial sales efforts by those who may take advantage of people unfamiliar to the enrollment process.

A recent series of health fairs in Detroit held by insurance agents from Florida misrepresenting themselves as the “ObamaCare Detroit Enrollment Team” have raised concerns. Florida-based Fiorella Insurance Agency, is in no way affiliated with the Obama administration.

Southfield Insurance agent James Ralph, who attended the opening day fair Oct. 16, said the Fiorella Agency failed to properly represent their company.

“They were using the Obama ‘O’ logo and everything. This was not legal,” he told the Michigan Citizen. “And they’re from Florida. Why were they here?”

Ralph was also concerned that residents were being asked to give their information, including social security numbers and banking account information to the Fiorella agents.

“You’ve heard of people selling information, using information — identity theft; information being used damaging to their credit and everything else,” he said.

Navigators were given federal dollars to educate people on the enrollment process. Fiorella Agency was not an approved affliate.

Nick Fiorella, vice president of the Fiorella Agency, told the Michigan Citizen he made it clear to patrons in Detroit the agency had no connection with Obamacare.

“We made the consumers there aware we are not affiliated with the government; we’re an independent insurance agency backed by license and professional insurance agents,” Fiorella said.

In a Detroit News article, however, he said his agency used the Obamacare name in hopes of relating to clientele. He says he wishes they’d been transparent upfront.

Much fanfare surrounded the event at which Mayor Dave Bing gave the opening remarks on the first day at the Northwest Activities Center.

A press release from the mayor’s office encouraged residents to come out and sign up for health insurance with on site “counselors”  to help with the enrollment process.

“There are a large number of Detroiters who don’t have health insurance due to their financial situations. And, just this week, the city’s emergency manager announced extensive cuts to healthcare benefits for 28,500 current and retired City workers,” said Mayor Bing in a statement. “We are encouraging everyone impacted by our city’s fiscal condition and the economy to attend these enrollment fairs to get professional assistance signing up for affordable, quality health insurance.”

Ralph said he’s disappointed the mayor endorsed the fairs.

“I’m a little disturbed by the mayor … not doing his homework on who they are,” he said.

According to the same Detroit News report, a Fiorella agent incorrectly told residents Blue Cross and Humana were the “only two viable options in Wayne County,” but that Blue Cross was their better choice.

According to documents from the Department of Insurance and Financial Services of Michigan, Fiorella was not appointed, or certified, to sell Blue Cross insurance, only Humana and Kanawaha.

Ralph said an agent is paid a three percent commission when signing up a patron under the ACA.

The Tampa Bay Times reported that Fiorella marketed policies to minorities in urban areas. “The group solicits through a network of Web sites, none of which disclosed ties to the agency until after reporters started poking around,” the article read.

The Web site marketed in Detroit, www.carefordetroit.com, has since been taken down.

Fiorella told Tampa Bay Times:

“We’re going into mostly urban communities and targeting people who haven’t had health insurance. They associate these changes with Obamacare. That’s what they know the law as, and that’s the brand that has rolled out nationally.”

Ralph is afraid the out-of-town agency is taking advantage of residents’ lack of understanding of the ACA enrollment process.

If people are signed up under the guise of an official ACA certification, at best they could lose out on tax subsidies offered under the new health care law, at worst they could be scammed entirely.

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