Another Wrinkle in Exchange Rollout? Private Sites Attempting to Lure Shoppers Looking for Exchanges

Yesterday saw two reports—perhaps the first of many—discussing the emergence of an additional wrinkle in the rollout of the health exchanges: private websites attempting to lure shoppers away from the government exchanges with websites that look and sound like the real thing.

According to an article posted by WMUR New Hampshire, the state insurance commissioner has issued a cease-and-desist letter to the owner of one website, newhampshirehealthexchange.com, that is allegedly trying to take advantage of shoppers hoping to acquire insurance through the real exchange.  New Hampshire’s not the only state dealing with this sort of issue.

King5 in Washington features a nearly identical article about action being considered by Washington’s state insurance commissioner against a similar website, www.wahealthfinder.com. The state’s site insurance information site is www.wahealthplanfinder.org.   (As of this moment, a Google search for “wahealthfinder” provides the actual state site as the first link and the commercial counterpart as the second.)  The owner of the website protests, as reported in the article, that his business pre-dates Washington’s state-run website.

To be fair, just because there is a similarity between these private sites and the official government counterparts does not mean that the private sites serve no legitimate purpose, or that those who run them are up to no good.  I’ve often found that dmv.org, a privately owned website with DMV information for all fifty states, is a better source of information than my own state’s analogous website.  But there is no doubt that the potential for confusion among customers, and therefore the potential for abuse, is there.

Also, these are reports of consumer protection with regard to the exchange rollout taking place at the state level.  I will be curious to see whether similar problems arise with the federal website, www.healthcare.gov, and whether CMS watches analogous sites closely.  For example, www.healthcare.com and www.healthcare.org look a lot like the www.healthcare.gov.  I wonder how many of their page views come from consumers hoping to find www.healthcare.gov, and (more importantly) how many of those consumers ultimately find their way to the exchanges.  And I wonder whether the CMS, like the insurance commissioners in Washington and New Hampshire, will be looking into that question.

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