CNBC recently published a piece warning, “Obamacare is coming, and so are the con artists.” The article — which describes some consumer advocates’ fears that scam artists will use the health law’s imminent rollout as an opportunity to trick people out of their money and personal information — was quickly picked up by conservatives on social media and right-wing news outlets.
However, the Obamacare opponents who are now using the possibility of fraud as more ammunition for their campaigns against the health law have often undermined the very tools that could prevent it.
There’s no question that a number of scams have propped up since Obamacare’s passage in 2010. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and consumer protection groups like Fraud.org have worked to track them, and recommend that consumers visit the FTC’s online complaint assistance website or call 1-877-FTC-HELP if they feel they’ve been targets of fraud.
Some of the most popular scams involve callers telling people that they need to sign up for insurance with a Social Security or bank routing number, or risk going to jail. Although that’s patently false, many Americans don’t realize it. And confusion over the health law is a would-be scammer’s best friend.
When a consumer doesn’t know what a state insurance marketplace is, or what obligations and privileges he or she has under the health law, then it’s far more likely that person could be tricked by an anonymous caller wishing to “verify” their Social Security information, requesting a bank routing number, or asking seniors for their Medicare IDs. That’s why Fraud.org’s primary recommendation for avoiding Obamacare fraudsters is to become more educated about the law. Unfortunately, surveys have shown that confusion about Obamacare is rampant. Over 43 percent of the uninsured who will qualify for government subsidies to buy health insurance in October don’t know they’re required to do so.
Avoiding fraud requires a level of commitment to Obamacare education campaigns that Republicans have refused to provide, on both the federal and state level. Anti-Obamacare organizations funded by conservative PACs are running misleading political campaigns against the and have vastly outspent outreach groups that are communicating plainspoken details about health reform. Senior Republicans like Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) compared efforts to form public-private partnerships to teach Americans about reform with the Iran-Contra scandal. And House Republicans sent a letter to the NBA and NFL in June warning them not to promote Obamacare enrollment or run ads informing consumers about the health law, calling such efforts the Obama administration’s “dirty work.”
The health law’s opponents have also suggested that the new insurance marketplaces, which will employ “navigators” to walk consumers through the particulars of health reform and help them enroll in health plans, could invite theft and fraud. In a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, 13 red state attorneys general warned that navigators and their assistants could actually end up being criminals who commit identity theft, since they aren’t subject to background checks and fingerprinting.
But this is another Obamacare criticism that stems from Republicans’ own unwillingness to cooperate with health reform. The attorneys general failed to mention that all of these states could have imposed stricter requirements for the people hired as navigators if they had simply chosen to set up their own insurance marketplaces. All of them chose not to do so, and instead defaulted to a marketplace run by the federal government out of protest against the health law.
Obamacare is a complicated new government program, and implementing it will likely include combating scams, fraud, and abuse. The lawmakers and officials who are raising concerns about these issues could take steps to encourage outreach policies that would actually mitigate them. But instead, they’ve worked to actively undermine the solutions. And outside groups — including nonprofits, public libraries, celebrities, and faith leaders — are picking up the slack and stepping in to teach the masses about health reform.