Could bogus health scams emerge from health reform

It’s anyone’s guess what will happen with the off-again, on-again attempts to repeal/replace/improve the Affordable Care Act.

But one thing seems sure: Republicans in Congress and the White House seem bent on pushing a couple of changes every scam artist should love.

The first is H.R. 1101, the Small Business Health Fairness Act of 2017. It would allow health insurance to be sold through association health plans. It sounds like a solid idea — get a bunch of like-minded people or businesses together, form your own plan and buy coverage in the unregulated secondary market. There’s a lot of problems here, as consumer and healthcare groups point out in a recent letter to Congress.

Our biggest beef is that the bill would exempt AHPs from some state regulation. Lax scrutiny could tempt scam artists to set up their own AHP, collect a ton of premiums and then disappear. It’s happened before.

The same scenario is likely with selling health insurance across state lines. The lack of regulatory oversight is an invitation for scam artists to defraud individuals and businesses by setting up bogus health plans.

The White House likens selling health insurance across state lines to selling auto insurance across state lines, which to our knowledge doesn’t happen. Do supporters of these proposals simply not understand the potential consequences for consumers?

Most supporters probably don’t remember the last wave of bogus health plans during 2000-2002. The Government Accountability Office reported 144 unauthorized entities peddled bogus health coverage to more than 200,000 policyholders. The cons stole at least a quarter billion dollars in lost premiums and unpaid medical claims many victims were forced to pay out of their own pockets. One family had a child with brain cancer, only to discover they’d bought fake coverage.

Stricter laws and tighter regulation followed, and the bogus health plans seemed to disappear. Whatever happens with healthcare, let’s hope Congress has the wisdom to first do no harm in aiding and abetting healthcare scams.

About the author: Dennis Jay is executive director of the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud.


Axed prosecutor leaves gap in fraud fight

If I was an insurance scammer I’d be doing my happy dance. President Trump’s axing of Preet Bharara removes the nation’s most formidable federal fraud buster.

Bharara’s best-known for convicting crooked government officials, insider traders and ponzi artists like Madoff. Bharara also hunted down many of the nation’s largest insurance-fraud rings as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

He assembled a crack team of super-smart attorneys who went after insurance fraudsters with a mission-drive passion. Bharara built an unmatched courtroom machinery.

Scores of the large insurance rings went down — Medicare, staged-crashes, disability and other corrupt operations. Hundreds of insurance scammers likely were swept off the streets since President Obama installed Bharara in 2009. The savings in stolen insurance money probably reaches many billions of dollars.

The largest no-fault crash ring in history crumbled under his grip. It was a $279-million behemoth of fake whiplash claims that earned ringleader Michael Danilovich a place in the Insurance Fraud Hall of Shame.

Dozens of Long Island Railroad employees lived the good life. They took early retirement after a corrupt doc falsely certified them — for bribes — as disabled. They took millions in taxpayer disability money while golfing, traveling, working out at the gym. Bharara earned guilty pleas from 28 swindlers and convicted the rest.

Wealthy Russian diplomats scattered after he went after them for swindling Medicaid, the federal health program for the poor.

In what may be his last case, Bharara charged ringleaders in a suspected $57-million Medicaid ripoff centered around a clinic in New York City in early March.

Incoming presidents routinely purge the U.S. attorneys, who are party appointees. It was inevitable that Obama’s brightest courtroom light would be ushered out the door.

New York is an epicenter of large insurance scams. Much is driven by vast underworld crime cartels and syndicates. Billions of insurance dollars are on the line.

We’ll urge Bharara’s Republican successor to keep insurance crime a high priority — and even expand operations with the same passion that drove Bharara. Let’s turn that fraudster happy dance back into a trail of tears.

About the author: Jim Quiggle is director of communications for the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud.


Why dishonest claims turn violent

Prentice Ponds was trapped. He bought a damaged Chevy Camaro on eBay, then did a dumb thing. The Tulsa man billed his auto insurer for repairs, lying he crashed the car after buying it.

A suspicious insurer adjuster came to his Tulsa home for a chat. Mark Frayne had the original eBay photos. That damage matched the crunched auto parts in photos Ponds gave Repwest Insurance.

Ponds panicked and beat up Frayne — breaking his ribs, lacerating his head, and stealing his claim evidence. The jury came down hard. Ponds got life in state prison for the assault and robbery, and 25 years for the insurance plot.

Fraud fighters often put their safety and even lives on the line. Insurance cheaters can be panicky, jittery, unhinged when interviewed in the field. Jail’s coming on fast, their careers and jobs lost. They lash out, somehow thinking a fist or gun will bail them out of a conviction.

Kim Sledge and Rhett Jeansonne were respected investigators for the Louisiana insurance department. They knocked on the office door of an insurance agent suspected of stealing client premiums. The agent ambushed Kim and Rhett. He gunned them down, then shot himself.

Sallie Rohrbach was an auditor for the North Carolina insurance department. She was reviewing the books of an agent who might’ve stolen client premiums. Michael Howell clubbed Sallie to death with a chair in his office.

Fraudsters have ordered hits on witnesses, tried to bully them from testifying, and even plotted to murder judges. Fortunately the hits didn’t come off, though were just one trigger pull from erasing lives.

So let’s applaud fraud fighters, who know violence can come with their next knock on a door. Let’s also rethink insurance fraud. A few small, silly claims? Tell that to neighbors who’ve died in botched home insurance arsons. And especially, tell it to the families who Kim, Rhett and Sallie left behind.

About the author: Jim Quiggle is director of communications for the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud.