As health insurance open-enrollment season continues in California, automated phone calls offering Affordable Care Act or other health plans are spiking — and driving many consumers to the brink. California residents may have it worst, due to its open-enrollment period being twice as long as those in other parts of the country.
“It’s at epidemic levels at this time of year,” said Aaron Foss, founder of Nomorobo, who estimates his spam call-blocking service, based in Long Island, N.Y., headed off more than 850,000 health-related robocalls in October alone — nearly five times their interceptions for September, Foss said.
Almost all of these calls are illegal, according to rules published by the Federal Trade Commission in 2009. Under federal law, calls using prerecorded messages are legal only for such things as doctor appointment reminders, flight cancellations, credit card fraud alerts and political candidates. Calls to sell products and services are not.
Many of these calls offer skimpy health plans that don’t cover what you might need, insurance regulators and consumer advocates say. Others, they say, are downright fraudulent, with unscrupulous insurance “brokers” taking payment and promising insurance that never comes through.
Most of what’s sold through these automated calls are so-called skinny plans and don’t comply with Affordable Care Act requirements, or are short-term insurance plans, which typically offer coverage for only a few months and often don’t cover preexisting conditions or prescription drugs. Such plans have been outlawed in California, starting Jan. 1.
Despite state and federal crackdowns, robocalls aren’t going away anytime soon. So the best thing for consumers to do when they receive one is to just hang up or, not respond to unfamiliar numbers, advises the Federal Communications Commission.
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