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Ohioans warned to watch for healthcare scams

(Toledo News Now) -

Officials are warning Ohioans to guard against scams related to the Affordable Care Act, sometimes referred to as Obamacare, with open enrollment for the new federally-run health insurance exchange in Ohio running through March 31, 2014. Coverage begins Jan. 1, 2014 for those who select a plan by Dec. 15.

"Scammers often pretend to be associated with the government to make their ploys seem real," said Attorney General Mike DeWine. "We want to warn Ohio families to be on guard for potential scams and to take steps to protect themselves."

Lieutenant Governor and Insurance Director, Mary Taylor, says it's important for Ohioans to understand the facts so they can protect themselves.

"Because the federal law and the exchanges are new and complicated to consumers, Ohioans should be even more cautious about potential scams and fraudulent behavior," said Taylor.

Reports of ACA-related scams initially surfaced in Ohio over the summer. With consumers and small business representatives now shopping for exchange coverage, even more scammers may try to take advantage of people.

Tips to avoid scams:

-Guard your personal information. Legitimate government reps will never contact you unexpectedly and request personal information, such as your Social Security or bank account number. If you do give out personal information tied to a potential scam, immediately inform your banks, credit card providers, and the three major credit bureaus.

You are not required to obtain a new insurance or Medicare card under the ACA. There is not an "Obamacare" insurance card and the ACA does not require Medicare recipients to sign up for new coverage to continue to receive benefits. Anyone who is a legitimate rep of the federal government should not ask you to provide your personal and financial information.

One ploy involves unsolicited calls from scammers who claim to have your new "Obamacare" insurance card, and they just need to get some personal information before they can send it to you. A variation targets those with Medicare, in which callers say they need the person's information so they receive their new Medicare card and continue receiving benefits.

-Never pay upfront fees. Government program reps do not sell insurance or demand upfront payment, and navigators (individuals who can provide information about the ACA) are free.

Navigators, who must be certified by the Ohio Department of Insurance, were created by the federal law to provide information about the exchanges to consumers. Funded by the federal government, navigators are prohibited from recommending specific plans. Navigators who receive certification will be searchable online.

Insurance agents can help Ohioans shop and enroll for exchange coverage, once they have completed training and become certified. Agents are permitted to recommend plans, which are generally those in which they have a contract with that insurer, and help people enroll. A list of Ohio-licensed agents is available online.

Scammers can claim to be a government official or agent in an attempt to steal your personal information, including bank account number. Be certain to review their licensure and certification status before beginning a business relationship.

-Remember: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Promises about "free" medical devices may signal a scam.

-Get information from reliable sources. Watch out for phony websites or individuals who pretend to be associated with the government. Contact the Ohio Department of Insurance and the federal government if you have questions about the ACA.

The new federally-run health insurance exchange in Ohio is an online portal where consumers who need individual health insurance and small businesses can go to secure certain coverage. You can find more information about the federal exchange in Ohio by visiting the only website where Ohioans can enroll.

Bogus websites that purport to be part of the exchanges have been appearing online for more than a year. They often attempt to mirror the look of an official exchange website, but they are not legitimate. Those behind the fake websites claim you can receive subsidies and purchase a policy. They attempt to collect personal information by asking visitors to complete online information forms.

-Report scams or suspicious activity to the proper bureaus. Call the Ohio Attorney General's Office at 1-800-282-0515. You can call the Department of Insurance's new ACA fraud hotline at 1-877-727-6427. Those with questions about health insurance can call 1-800-686-1526.

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