Many business opportunities and other home-based or other small businesses are owned and operated by just one person, making them especially vulnerable to the inevitable con artists who are exploiting consumer confusion about the Affordable Care Act (ACA), aka Obamacare. Given that October 1 marked the first day that Americans were able to begin enrolling in health care coverage provided via the ACA insurance exchanges, it should be no surprise that a number of hucksters have come out of the woodwork, and it’s only anticipated to get worse.
“Con artists are taking advantage of people’s confusion about what exactly the Affordable Care Act means for them,” said Carrie A. Hurt, the President and CEO of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, in a recent statement. “Scammers’ favorite tools are confusion and fear.” Unfortunately, because they are the ones likely to be most affected by the ACA’s new requirements, small business owners—especially micro-business owners who run their own companies with little to no staff—are particularly attractive targets for fraudulent schemes.
If you are a business opportunity or other small business owner who, as an individual, will now be required under the ACA to purchase health insurance where you did not have it before or who will be in the market for more affordable insurance than you have already, do not be fooled by any of these scams:
• Bogus website and toll-free numbers—A number of fraudulent website and bogus toll-free phone numbers have already been shut down for masquerading as legitimate health insurance exchanges, so be careful that the organization you are dealing with is the real deal.
• Threatening phone calls, texts, emails and messages via social media—Anyone who says you must sign up for a plan that meets federal requirements or else pay a penalty then and there, or even do jail time, and who approaches you through any of these channels is a liar, plain and simple. They're probably just after your personal healthcare and financial information, so don’t give it to them. Also, please know that the U.S. and even your local government will almost always exclusively use the U.S. mail to contact you for any reason, and there is no jail time for non-compliance with the ACA, only a financial penalty.
• Call verification techniques—Posing as government representatives, fraudsters are calling homes and small businesses to obtain verification of Medicare ID numbers and Social Security numbers, claiming that it is a necessary part of the overall ACA implementation process. Not true!
• Special discount offers—This ruse claims that for a limited time only you can get a deal on your premiums under the ACA, but only after you provide vital personal information, of course. Please note that there are no special offers available whatsoever, and you have until March 31, 2014 to enroll in a health care plan. If you want to make sure you have coverage beginning the first day of January, however, you’ll need to sign up by December 15, 2013, so be alert that scammer efforts to apply pressure may increase around that time.
• Navigators—Given that the ACA legislation is so confusing and that there is so much misinformation circulating in the media, especially online, the environment is ripe for individuals and organizations to crop up and claim they can help you—for a price—to better understand the law and its implications for you and your business. Plus, they oftentimes will offer to assist you in finding a good plan. While there are reputable individuals and companies who can do just that, be very wary before you hire one… do your homework and get lots of references.
• Phony plans and healthcare exchanges—It is critical that you know who or what organization is selling you your healthcare plan and to be crystal clear on the benefits it provides. Beware bogus plans that will pay next to nothing when you need the benefits you thought you were buying the most. There have even been instances of phony radio and TV ads that promote illegitimate or even non-existent healthcare plans and exchanges, so be careful.
• The Obamacare Card—The hallmark of this scam? You’re told you will need an Obamacare Card, much like a Medicare Card, in order to find and secure coverage under the ACA. There is no such thing!
Lastly, keep in mind that not only does the government NOT employ anything other than regular mail to communicate with you on a regular basis, but its ACA representatives are trained NOT to ask you for your personal information. Furthermore, those representatives are housed at government and non-profit agencies around the country. They are not running around just anywhere and everywhere.
For reliable information on how you can navigate the ins and outs of the ACA and the burgeoning Health Insurance Marketplace, as well as how all of it will affect and apply to you as a business opportunity or other small business owner, go to https://www.healthcare.gov/. Or for tips you can trust, visit http://www.bbb.org/ now!