They thought they had been shopping for Obamacare plans. What they obtained wasn’t insurance coverage.
  • Reading time:10 min(s) read

Tina Passione wanted medical health insurance in a rush in December. The newly retired 63-year-old was relocating to suburban Atlanta along with her husband to be nearer to grandchildren. Their home in Pittsburgh flew off the market, they usually had six weeks to maneuver out 40 years of reminiscences.

Passione stated she went on-line to seek for the federal medical health insurance market, clicked on a hyperlink, and entered her data. She promptly obtained a number of calls from insurance coverage brokers and purchased a plan for $384 a month. Later, although, when she went to a pharmacy and physician workplaces in Georgia, she was instructed she didn’t have insurance coverage.

In truth, it stated it proper on her card: “THIS IS NOT INSURANCE.”

Passione is one in every of 10 shoppers who instructed KHN that they thought they had been shopping for insurance coverage however discovered later that that they had been offered a membership to a Houston-based well being care sharing ministry referred to as Jericho Share. The ministry fashioned in 2021 when House of Prayer and Life Inc., a half-century-old Christian congregation, assumed the identify Jericho Share, based on Texas enterprise filings.

Health care sharing ministries are faith-based organizations whose members comply with share medical bills. The ministries grew in recognition earlier than the Affordable Care Act’s mandate for having insurance coverage protection was repealed as a result of they provided a less expensive various to insurance coverage. But they aren’t insurance coverage, largely not regulated as such, and do not essentially cowl members’ medical payments. Massachusetts is the lone state that requires ministries to repeatedly report knowledge, and solely about half of claims submitted to ministries there have been deemed eligible for cost. This spring, the Colorado legislature handed related necessities that await the governor’s signature.

The Better Business Bureau offers Jericho Share an F ranking, its lowest, and its web site reveals greater than 100 complaints filed in lower than a 12 months. Texas Department of Insurance paperwork present two complaints, from February and March, about Jericho Share. The division responded to each by saying it regulates insurance coverage, which ministries should not, and forwarding them to the state lawyer common’s workplace. The lawyer common’s workplace didn’t reply to KHN questions in regards to the standing of the complaints.

John Oxendine, a lawyer who was elected 4 instances as Georgia insurance coverage commissioner and ran for governor as a Republican in 2010, responded to KHN inquiries made to Jericho Share. If memberships are being offered to shoppers in deceptive methods, “that’s a good way for a broker to get fired,” he stated.

“Jericho Share does not tolerate any type of misrepresentation or unethical conduct on the part of its programs,” based on an announcement despatched by way of Oxendine. “Whenever we become aware of inappropriate conduct, we take appropriate action to remedy the situation.”

Consumers can all the time cancel their Jericho Share plans, Oxendine stated. Many shoppers who spoke to KHN did cancel their plans and obtain refunds, however a number of stated the method to take action was irritating. Some had been left to type out cost for payments they incurred whereas they thought they had been insured. At least seven of the individuals KHN spoke with stated they ended up with Jericho Share after starting their medical health insurance searches on Google.

Encountering such points whereas searching for medical health insurance shouldn’t be unusual, stated JoAnn Volk, co-director of Georgetown University’s Center on Health Insurance Reforms. She co-authored a 2021 report that discovered “misleading marketing practices” had been directing shoppers to various well being plans, like ministries, that may value greater than market plans and supply fewer protections.

“It’s especially unfortunate because people have set out to buy comprehensive coverage,” Volk stated.

Susan Fauman, 47, a metalsmith from Germantown, New York, relied on her partner’s insurance coverage protection however wished her personal insurance coverage coverage earlier than submitting her divorce paperwork final fall. Fauman stated her Google search landed her on a collection of what the promoting business calls “lead-generating” web sites: nongovernmental webpages that join insurance coverage brokers to shoppers.

None of the shoppers KHN spoke with may say with certainty which web site in the end linked them to the brokers who offered them Jericho Share memberships. ObamacarePlans.com and AffordableHealthPlans.org are among the many lead-generating web sites that present up on Google when somebody searches with phrases equivalent to “Obamacare insurance” or “healthcare marketplace.” Those web site listings are literally ads that resemble extraordinary Google search outcomes however are labeled with the phrase “Ad” and are positioned above essentially the most related search end result: the federal authorities’s official medical health insurance market, healthcare.gov.

Google spokesperson Christa Muldoon stated firms that publicize on searches associated to the Affordable Care Act should show they’re licensed to promote insurance coverage by way of the federal or state marketplaces.

Those marketplaces let shoppers store for complete medical health insurance, inform them whether or not they qualify for monetary help, and join shoppers with enrollment help, if wanted. By distinction, lead-generating web sites usually simply promote the non-public data offered by shoppers to insurance coverage brokers and brokers who can promote different sorts of plans.

Fauman stated she unwittingly put her data into what turned out to be a number of lead-generating web sites. She was quickly inundated with telephone calls from insurance coverage brokers, she recalled.

Eager to get insurance coverage, Fauman stated, she purchased a plan for about $330 a month, plus a $99 sign-up price. She stated the dealer — who, she later realized, by no means named the plan — stated she’d have mainly no copays and no restrictions on the place to get care. But he didn’t inform her it was a well being care sharing ministry, she stated, or that it wasn’t insurance coverage — one thing she did not know to ask about. When she acquired her Jericho Share card with its disclaimer, she thought, “What the hell did I sign up for?”

Ministries and aggressive insurance coverage advertising and marketing practices have raised eyebrows earlier than, and the Washington state lawyer common issued a client alert final 12 months about “ads and websites posing as the official health insurance marketplace.” But Georgetown University’s Volk stated large-scale crackdowns would doubtless require cooperation by a number of state regulators as a result of states are the default enforcers of insurance coverage guidelines. The Federal Trade Commission did deliver a case in opposition to a Florida-based operation in 2018, alleging it collected over $195 million by enrolling shoppers in “worthless plans.” The case is ongoing.

And it isn’t all the time clear who can and needs to be defending shoppers on this difficult house that covers private and non-private insurance coverage, interstate commerce, web sites, and well being care sharing ministries.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services manages the healthcare.gov web site. “When CMS sees an ad we think is misrepresenting HealthCare.gov, we share it immediately with the search engines,” deputy administrator Ellen Montz stated in an announcement.

Louise Rasho, a spokesperson for MediaAlpha, which operates ObamacarePlans.com, stated in an electronic mail that the corporate’s code of conduct doesn’t enable brokers who purchase buyer results in mislead shoppers. It periodically displays calls to make sure compliance. She additionally famous the location has disclaimers saying that it’s not a authorities web site.

Craig Sturgill of Excel Impact LLC, which owns AffordableHealthPlans.org, stated that if the corporate learns a dealer has damaged the regulation or used questionable ways, it terminates contracts and takes “further action” as crucial. “As a digital marketing company, we aren’t necessarily in the business of deeply educating consumers from beginning-to-end about all of their available options,” Sturgill stated in an electronic mail. “Our role is to connect consumers to advisors who can and should effectively educate consumers.”

The dealer callback quantity that client Hemani Hughes stated she used to right the spelling of her identify on her Jericho Share plan — earlier than she realized it was a ministry — is listed on the web sites of the Better Business Bureau and the Utah Insurance Department as belonging to Florida-based Prosperity Health LLC. In an electronic mail, Prosperity Health’s registered enterprise agent, Ahmed Shokry, stated it had “never sold Health Shares.”

Hughes, a 49-year-old communications strategist in Kansas, stated she was offered a Jericho Share plan in February after particularly telling a dealer she didn’t desire a well being care sharing ministry plan. Hughes stated she realized after her name that the dealer by no means talked about the plan by identify, saying solely that she was signing up for a “national PPO” and strolling her by way of the copays.

When Hughes realized it was a well being care sharing ministry, she stated, she referred to as to cancel her plan. She was met with what she described as “a pretty manipulating and very belligerent gantlet of customer service reps and hold times” over a number of calls.

At one level, Hughes stated, the individuals she was talking with instructed her it was irresponsible to go with out insurance coverage — despite the fact that Jericho Share itself shouldn’t be insurance coverage.

Hughes outlined her story in a criticism she filed with the Better Business Bureau. Jericho Share responded to the buyer watchdog that it was contacting Hughes straight to guard her non-public well being data and stated, “We are working very diligently to investigate this complaint thoroughly.” Hughes in the end acquired a refund.

Passione stated she filed her criticism with the Better Business Bureau after she could not get a straight reply about cost for her physician appointments and prescriptions. In March, Passione canceled her Jericho Share plan and signed up for COBRA protection by way of her former employer for $782 a month.

“A bit expensive, but at least I know what I am getting,” Passione stated.

She stated she was reimbursed by Jericho Share for one month’s cost and is ready to listen to whether or not her bank card firm can recoup funds she made in January and February.

Fauman, who additionally filed a criticism, acquired a refund, too, however spent two months uninsured and averted calling her physician whereas she sorted out the state of affairs.

“I was afraid of what it was going to cost me,” Fauman stated.

She ultimately obtained market insurance coverage with the assistance of a “navigator,” somebody educated to assist shoppers enroll in protection with out incomes a fee. After subsidies, Fauman’s premium is round $95 a month, costing her about $2,800 much less a 12 months than what she stated her Jericho Share plan would have — and her new plan is definitely insurance coverage.

Where to Buy Marketplace Insurance


To discover a medical health insurance plan, go to the federal market, healthcare.gov, or name 800-318-2596.

This article was reprinted from khn.org with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser Health News, an editorially unbiased information service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan well being care coverage analysis group unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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