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Brokers Simplify, Confuse Health Exchange Shopping

In one such case, a state-licensed broker in suburban Seattle bought the domain name washingtonhealthplanfinder.org and built a website with fewer computer glitches than the state's new health insurance marketplace, wahealthplanfinder.org. The brokerage's site told customers: "Welcome to the Exchange!" in big print until the state insurance commissioner asked for changes to avoid confusion.

"You don't want to go to the wrong portal," Johnson said.

The insurance broker, Jeff Lindstrom, said he thought he was being creative when he bought 40-50 domain names to bring in new customers. He said he is not trying to confuse the public. Lindstrom's toll free phone number was also very close to the official call center number, said Stephanie Marquis, a spokeswoman for Washington's insurance commissioner.

In New Hampshire, newhampshirehealthexchange.com offered free price quotes on insurance, but it wasn't affiliated with the state or the federal government, which is running New Hampshire's official online market. The site was taken down days after the state sent a cease-and-desist letter.

"It put itself forward as offering health insurance through the exchange, and consumers are naturally misled by that into thinking it's the government site," said Deputy Insurance Commissioner Alex Feldvebel.

The insurance department took action after getting a complaint from a small business owner who called a phone number on the misleading site.

"He called and ended up talkng to someone who said, 'Unless you make a choice today, the price is going to go up,'" Feldvebel said.

A man who answered the phone declined to comment at the company identified as running the site, Arizona-based Steffen Financial.

In Pennsylvania, a consumer law group this summer tipped off regulators about a licensed broker's website that featured a logo mimicking the state seal and telling visitors: "Welcome to the Pennsylvania Health Exchange!" The broker took down PAhealthexchange.com a day after the state insurance department's enforcement bureau called.

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