People losing Medicaid face misleading marketing in search for new coverage

People searching for insurance online after losing Medicaid coverage face misleading advertising for limited-benefit plans, a report from the Georgetown University Center for Health Insurance Reforms in Washington, D.C., found. 

Researchers conducted a secret shopper study, based on two hypothetical consumers who were no longer eligible for Medicaid in Texas on the basis of their incomes. Both of the hypothetical consumers were eligible for silver-tier plans on the ACA exchange with $0 premiums. 

The top search engine results for "cheap health insurance," "Obamacare plans," "ACA enroll" and "" took the researchers to sites promoting limited-benefit insurance products. 

Limited-benefit insurance is not ACA compliant and includes fixed indemnity and short-term plans and healthcare sharing ministries. These plans typically do not cover as many services as conventional insurance and can charge higher premiums based on enrollees' health status. 

A researcher spoke to 20 sales representatives as if they were one of the hypothetical consumers. None of the sales representatives informed them they were eligible for $0 premium ACA coverage, and over half tried to sell limited-benefit plans, with quoted premiums between $109-$271 a month. 

"Based on the tactics employed during these calls, it seems all too easy for unscrupulous actors to sell former Medicaid enrollees a limited benefit product misrepresented as comprehensive coverage, or to mislead consumers into thinking they cannot afford health insurance — even if they are eligible for a free plan through the marketplace," the researchers wrote. 

Read the full report here. 

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