Mass. continues efforts to stem sale of fake health insurance

Nick Rees Oct. 14, 2009, 4:00pm

Martha Coakley (D)

BOSTON (Legal Newsline) - Four companies alleged to have been involved in the deceptive marketing and sale of a medical discount plan to Massachusetts residents have been hit with a lawsuit by Attorney General Martha Coakley's office.

Consumer Health Benefit Association, Guarantee Trust Life Insurance Company, Vantage America Solutions Inc., and National Benefits Consultants LLC are alleged to have unfairly and deceptively sold a discount medical plan that they represented as satisfying the Massachusetts law that requires individuals to have health insurance.

"Consumers in this state have enough on their plate when it comes to purchasing health insurance to meet the Massachusetts mandate and should not be overrun with products that purport to be one thing, but are something else entirely," Coakley said. "When companies exploit the mandate by passing off a medical discount plan as though it met the standards of minimum creditable coverage, it constitutes an illegal sales practice and will not be tolerated by this office."

The civil complaint against the companies, filed in Suffolk Superior Court, asserts that consumers with pre-existing conditions who were seeking health insurance were unfairly targeted by the companies' marketing efforts.

The defendants alleged to have misrepresented that their service was health insurance or a form of comprehensive health or medical coverage. Health insurance terms were allegedly used by the defendants, further misleading consumers into believing that they were purchasing health insurance.

The complaint also alleges that high-pressure sales tactics were employed by the defendants. Consumers who fell prey to the sales tactics were charged a non-refundable enrollment fee of approximately $119 as well as monthly membership fees in the same amounts.

Coakley's suit seeks penalties, restitution for consumers and a court order permanently prohibiting the defendants from engaging in the deceptive and illegal practices in Massachusetts that are the subject of the lawsuit.

The lawsuit comes as part of Coakley's effort to increase the increasing use of deceptive marketing of medical discount plans. Coakley's office has proposed regulations to require organizations that market medical discount plants in Massachusetts to disclose fully how the plan works and whether it is limited to certain services or products from certain providers.

The proposed disclosure requirement would make clear that the discount plan is not actually insurance and would inform consumers that they would be required to pay for any services or products.

The regulations would also require medical discount plans to maintain lists of providers who have agreed to offer the plan's members discounts that would be available to consumers.

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