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Brokers Simplify, Confuse Health Exchange Shopping

BY EMERY P. DALESIO

This month's glitch-filled rollout of the health insurance marketplaces created by federal law is a business opportunity for brokers and agents, but regulators warn that it also opened the door for those who would seek to line their pockets by misleading consumers.

New Hampshire's insurance commissioner sent a cease-and-desist letter last week to an Arizona company he accused of building a website to mislead health care shoppers into thinking it was the official marketplace. The site was taken down Friday.

Regulators in Washington state and Pennsylvania also have told agents to change websites that seemed likely to convince consumers they were connecting to government-run sites. Connecticut's insurance department warned agents and brokers this summer that it will take action against agents who mislead consumers or design sites to replicate the state-run exchange.

An organization run by the top insurance regulators in each state recently issued an alert on the potential for scams related to the marketplaces. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners advised consumers that bogus sites have been spotted and warned people to beware of unsolicited calls by people claiming they need personal information to help them enroll in insurance.

Not all insurance agents are licensed to sell insurance on the exchanges, and buying a policy from one of them could leave consumers without the tax subsidies that make the health insurance affordable. Consumers who seek an insurance professional's help are urged to make sure they know who they're dealing with.

"We all need to be on the lookout right now. We don't want consumers to get confused," said Jessica Waltman of the National Association of Health Underwriters, a trade association representing agents and brokers.

Susan Johnson, the Northwest regional director for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said while some brokers are passionate about helping, others are seeking to take advantage.

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