In the lead up to the November 3rd election, Facebook and Google both agreed to ban misleading information regarding politics, but that doesn’t apply to health insurance.
President Trump and the GOP have long promised to replace the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare”, with a more conservative approach to healthcare that would strip protections for those with pre-existing conditions. The plan, which has yet to be unveiled, is often referred to as “Trumpcare”, but details remain scant.
Now, Facebook and Google are running ads for health insurance with the “Trumpcare” label. These ads aren’t political in nature, but instead encourage people to sign up for health insurance policies that could put consumers at risk. Those looking for insurance will get bombarded with calls from unlicensed brokers selling policies with gaps in coverage that exclude certain conditions or contain misleading information, all of which could lead to higher costs, less access to care, and more surprise bills.
Getting Rid of the ACA
The ACA requires traditional health insurance plans to provide “minimal essential coverage,” which includes services such as preventive care, mental health care, substance abuse, maternity care, and more. The law also protects individuals with pre-existing conditions, so insurance companies can’t deny them service due to their health status.
President Trump has made dismantling the ACA a key part of his re-election campaign. The GOP has tried to undo the law several times over the last few years. The law is currently being challenged in court. The case, California v. Texas, is set to go before the U.S. Supreme Court later this year.
Getting rid of the ACA would likely strip health insurance plans of these “essential benefits,” which would leave more people without health insurance.
Since 2010 when the ACA was enacted, the number of uninsured nonelderly Americans decreased from over 46.5 million to just below 27 million in 2016. However, recent attempts to undermine the ACA have reversed this trend. Since President Trump took office, the number of uninsured Americans rose by 2.3 million from 2016 to 2019, including 726,000 children, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Is “Trumpcare” Real?
Repealing the ACA has long been the goal of the Republican Party, but it’s still not clear what they would put in its stead. President Trump maintains that his plan for replacing the law, or “Trumpcare”, is just around the corner, but the election is just two weeks away.
However, some consumers are already signing up for non-traditional health insurance plans, even though the ACA has yet to be repealed. According to Facebook data, ads touting health insurance policies with the “Trumpcare” banner have already been viewed more than 22 million times since the beginning of 2020. The ads appear to target voters in swing states, such as North Carolina, Texas, Wisconsin, Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.
Instead of encouraging the person to vote for either President Trump or Vice-President Joe Biden, the ads contain misleading information regarding health insurance policies with temporary or limited coverage. If users click on the link in the ad, they are often redirected to a website with logos from major insurance companies, such as UnitedHealthcare. The user is then asked to enter their contact information, as well as details regarding their health status.
Those who report they are healthy will get flooded with calls from unlicensed insurance brokers. Some consumers report getting harassed over 50 times a day after entering their information. If the person picks up the phone, the broker, who is not employed by the insurance provider, will use aggressive sales tactics to get the person to sign up for policies with limited or temporary coverage.
According to Sabrina Corlette, a research professor at Georgetown University’s Center on Health Insurance Reforms, “The marketing is extremely deceptive. Both the advertising and the brokers use terms that to the average consumer will make them think they are buying a comprehensive insurance plan that provides coverage if they get injured or sick. But quite often nothing could be further from the truth.”
Many of these non-traditional policies exclude certain types of care, such as mental health, maternity, and preventative care for those with pre-existing conditions. However, the brokers rarely share these exclusions and restrictions with customers. When consumers ask questions over the phone or request additional information about the policy in question, the broker will either avoid the question or the line cuts out.
If you ask licensed insurance brokers about these “Trumpcare” policies, they will tell you it’s “fake news.” That’s according to recent reporting from ProPublica, which reached out to several professionals in the insurance industry. Some said the label was just a new way of referring to “Obamacare”, but others said, “‘Trumpcare’ is not even in existence yet.”
Thanks to Facebook’s user analytics, marketers have been targeting consumers with unprecedented precision. Brokers use these tools to identify “leads,” or those most likely to buy the health policy in question. This includes those with an expressed interest in President Trump as well as those looking for health insurance. That’s a lot of people, considering 14 million Americans have already lost their employer-sponsored insurance since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A company called Apollo Interactive has been collecting data on those looking for health insurance. These consumers then become leads for companies and unlicensed brokers looking to sell dubious policies. Google and Facebook will charge marketers anywhere from $20 to $80 for these “leads,” based on how likely they are to make a purchase.
Looking at the Fine Print
While some of these health insurance plans say they can help consumers save money in the short term by covering at least part of the cost of medical care, it’s not the same as buying traditional health insurance. For example, some ads say they offer fixed payments for a doctor’s visit, but when you read the fine print, this only applies if the person suffers from a certain type of accident. Other plans will only cover people for a limited period. Some sales reps will even outright lie about the details of the policy.
Justin Brain, a USHEALTH benefits specialist who’s been pitching these policies online, said sales agents can make tens of thousands of dollars for every policy they sell to consumers.
One of those is the Freedom Life plan, which comes from the Freedom Life Insurance Company of America, a UnitedHealthcare company. Jeffrey Hogan, the Northeast regional manager for Rogers Benefit Group, a national benefits marketing firm, examined the policy and deemed it, “a “cascading mess” of coverage for specific conditions. “I wouldn’t sell this stuff if it was the last piece of garbage on earth,” Hogan said. He says these policies are highly profitable for insurance companies. In the end, “they pay very little out on the dollar,” he said.
Looking at the fine print, many of these policies are meant to supplement traditional health insurance plans, like those offered under the ACA. This means they are not a good choice for those who are currently uninsured, but you wouldn’t know that by scrolling through Google or Facebook. As more people lose their health insurance, be on the lookout for dubious policies that could put your patients at risk.