In August, the Trump administration finalized a rule that expands the availability of short-term coverage, limited-duration plans from three months to just under twelve months and allows them to renew such plans for up to three years. The rule allows insurance companies to skirt vital consumer protections in the Affordable Care Act like protecting people with pre-existing conditions. In other words, the Trump administration has allowed insurance companies to flood the market with junk plans that do not provide the care people need, when they need it. Since finalizing the rule, the Trump administration has urged navigator groups that help people sign up for coverage to push consumers toward junk plans and has issued guidance urging states to let ACA subsidies be used to purchase these skimpy plans.

The fact of the matter is simple, junk plans are a recipe for fraud and leave consumers at risk of bankruptcy when they get sick. Take a look below:

SINCE THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION’S JUNK PLAN RULE, THESE PLANS HAVE ALREADY ATTRACTED FRAUD, SPURRED CONFUSION FOR CONSUMERS

January 2019 – Georgetown University Health Policy Institute Finds Consumers Searching Online For ACA Compliant Plans Are Often Directed, Instead, To Junk Plans. “Our marketing scan suggests that consumers shopping online for health insurance, including those using search terms such as ‘Obamacare plans’ or ‘ACA enroll,’ will most often be directed to websites and brokers selling STLDI or other non–ACA compliant products. These websites and brokers often fail to provide consumers with the plan information necessary to inform their purchase. Brokers selling STLDI over the phone push consumers to purchase the insurance quickly, without providing written information…Even during ACA open enrollment, only 19 percent of searches using the previously delineated terms returned sites offering solely ACA-compliant plans. Before open enrollment, the return was less than 1 percent. Generally, regardless of the search terms used, companies selling short-term plans dominated the returns. However, short-term plan insurers’ and brokers’ sites appeared more frequently when we searched for ‘short-term health insurance.’” [Georgetown University Health Policy Institute, 1/31/19]

November 2018 – New York Times: Federal Officials Shut Down Sales Of ‘Ruinous’ Health Insurance Plans. “‘There is good cause to believe’ that the Florida companies have sold shoddy coverage by falsely claiming that such policies were comprehensive health insurance or qualified health plans under the Affordable Care Act, Judge Darrin P. Gayles of the Federal District Court in Miami said in a temporary restraining order issued last week at the request of the Federal Trade Commission…The trade commission said the financial consequences of the misrepresentations ‘have been ruinous for consumers, many of whom do not realize’ the limits of the coverage until they incur substantial medical expenses. The commission described Mr. Dorfman as ‘the architect of this scam’ and said he had ‘siphoned millions of dollars of proceeds from defrauded consumers to pay for private jet travel, gambling sprees in Las Vegas, the rent for his oceanfront condominium, luxury automobiles, over $1 million in jewelry, and even the nearly $300,000 cost of his recent wedding at the St. Regis Hotel in Miami.’” [New York Times, 11/5/18]

November 2018 – Federal Trade Commission Condemned One Company’s Junk Plan Scheme As “Classic Bait-and-Switch Scheme Designed To Trick Consumers.” “The members of the trade commission — three Republicans and two Democrats — voted unanimously to take action against the Florida operation, which the commission described as ‘a classic bait-and-switch scheme designed to trick consumers into paying hundreds of dollars for substandard products under the pretense that they are actually receiving comprehensive health insurance.’” [New York Times, 11/5/18]

December 2018 – Short-term Plans, Filled With Confusing Parameters, Only Add To Difficulty During Open Enrollment Season. “The woman arrived at the University of South Florida’s navigator office in Tampa a few weeks ago with a 40-page document describing a short-term health insurance plan she was considering. She was uncomfortable with what the broker had said about the coverage, she told Jodi Ray, a health insurance navigator who helps people enroll in coverage, and she wanted help understanding it. The document was confusing, according to Ray, who oversees Covering Florida, the state’s navigator program. It was hard to decipher which services would be covered. ‘It was like a bunch of puzzle pieces,’ she said. Encouraged by her wife, the woman eventually opted instead for a marketplace plan with comprehensive benefits.” [NBC News, 12/10/18]

JUNK PLANS HAVE A LONG HISTORY OF LEAVING THOSE WHO GET SICK WITH THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS IN UNPAID BILLS

2019 – Stephanie Sena Contracted Sepsis And Needed Amputation — Her Junk Insurance Wouldn’t Pay. “Stephanie Sena was about to have half her foot amputated, an urgent procedure to keep a blood infection from spreading to the rest of her body. But the surgeon required payment up front and the insurance plan that the 39-year-old Villanova University adjunct professor bought months earlier was refusing to pay. She had less than 24 hours to come up with $1,920. Sena’s insurance plan, it turned out, was not real health insurance. It was an accident and sickness hospital indemnity plan that paid a set dollar amount for certain services. This surgery was not on the list. She has since gotten a $1,725 refund for seven months of premiums, after The Inquirer contacted the company, but that will barely put a dent in the $19,000 medical debt she’s accumulated since enrolling in a plan that covers virtually nothing.” [Philadelphia Inquirer, 4/5/19]

2018 – Short Term Plans Deceive Consumers Like Milton Rodriguez, Who Learn Their Plans Don’t Cover Emergency Room Services After Going To The Hospital For Emergency Room Services. “If there was ever a time Rodriguez needed health insurance, this was that time. He called an insurance broker who had reached out to him when he was shopping around for a plan. ‘I called at night and just needed something that would cover me right away,’ Rodriguez said.The broker sent a policy, which Rodriguez approved. He then sent a payment to the insurance company. The broker told him he’d be covered starting at 12 a.m. As soon coverage kicked in, Rodriguez went to the closest hospital, St. David’s in South Austin. It turned out he had appendicitis. While he was waiting for a bed in the ER, hospital staff took his insurance information. He had surgery and was sent home to recover. Rodriguez started getting phone calls from doctors and the hospital asking about his insurance plan. ‘And then the next thing I know is, I get my bills in the mail and it seems like the most important part – which was the emergency room, everything that happened within the emergency room – none of that was covered,’ he said. His bill: $62,620. At the bottom of that bill, there was a code explaining why coverage wasn’t applied: ‘This policy does not provide benefits for services provided in the emergency room.’” [KUT, 10/31/18]

2017 – Under Short-Term Plan, Insurance Company Was Able To Cancel Jeanne Balvin’s Insurance When She Got Sick, Leaving Her With $97,000 In Hospital Bills. “When Jeanne Balvin had emergency surgery for diverticulitis in June 2017, her short-term health insurance plan—a policy she bought instead of more comprehensive insurance—covered most of the bills after she paid a $2,500 deductible. But when she landed back in the hospital with an abdominal infection a few weeks later, she says her insurance company, UnitedHealthcare, wouldn’t cover the charges—and then canceled the three-month policy she had just renewed. UnitedHealthcare said the infection was a pre-existing condition related to the diverticulitis and wouldn’t be covered under terms of the contract. And when Balvin, 61, was hospitalized a third time at the end of July—this time for a blood clot probably caused by inactivity following the hospitalizations—she had no insurance at all, leaving her with $97,000 in hospital bills.” [Consumer Reports, 10/2/18]

2014 – Atlanta Woman With Short-Term Plan Was Diagnosed With Cancer And Left With $400,000 Medical Bill. “Dawn Jones…bought a short-term plan from Golden Rule Insurance, a unit of UnitedHealth Group Inc., so she’d be covered between jobs, according to court documents. Then, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Despite showing evidence she was unaware of the cancer when she bought the policy, the insurer didn’t pay for Jones’s treatment, leaving her with a $400,000 medical bill, according to a complaint she filed against the company in September 2016… the judge sided with Golden Rule and dismissed the case in August, finding the policy agreement clearly stated that preexisting conditions wouldn’t be covered, even if the customer was unaware of the condition. Jones wasn’t diagnosed until after she bought her policy.” [Bloomberg, 10/17/17]

2014 – Short-Term Insurance Plan Refuses To Pay For Man’s Triple Bypass Surgery, Leaving Family With $900,000 In Bills. “One case pending in federal court involves Kevin Conroy, who had a heart attack in 2014 and underwent triple bypass surgery, just two months after his wife, Linda, obtained a short-term policy over the telephone. Their insurer, HHC Life, refused to pay the bills. ‘We freaked out,’ Ms. Conroy said. ‘What were we going to do? It was $900,000.’ The insurer informed the Conroys the policy was ‘rescinded,’ to use the industry jargon. “[New York Times, 11/30/17]

2013 – In San Francisco, Woman Was Hit With $150,000 Charge After Short-Term Health Plan Refused Coverage. “Grace Wood, an instructor at a university in San Francisco, bought a short-term plan in 2013. When she had to have a heart procedure, her insurer, HCC Life, balked, leaving her with roughly $150,000 in unpaid medical bills.” [New York Times, 11/30/17]

2008 – San Antonio Man Paid Premiums To Short-Term Plan Company For Six Years, And Was Denied Coverage When He Developed Kidney Disease. “Pat’s decision to save some money by buying short-term insurance was a big mistake, says Karen Pollitz, project director of Georgetown University’s Health Policy Institute and a leading expert on the individual-insurance market. ‘These short-term policies are a joke,’ she says. ‘Nobody should ever buy them. It is false security that is being sold. It’s junk.’ That’s because diagnosing and treating an illness may not fall neatly into six-month increments. While Pat had been continuously covered since 2002 by the same company, Assurant Health, each successive policy treated him as a brand-new customer. In looking back over Pat’s medical records, the company noticed test results from December, eight months earlier. Though Pat’s doctors didn’t determine the precise cause of the problem until the following July, his kidney disease was nonetheless judged a ‘pre-existing condition’ — meaning his insurance wouldn’t cover it, since he was now under a different six-month policy from the one he had when he got those first tests…A paradox of medical costs is that people who can least afford them–the uninsured–end up being charged the most. Insurance companies, with large numbers of customers, have the financial muscle to negotiate low rates from health-care providers; individuals do not. Whereas insured patients would have been charged about $900 by the hospital that performed Pat’s biopsy (and pay only a small fraction of that out of their own pocket), Pat’s bill was $7,756. For lab work–and there was a lot of it–he was being charged as much as six times the price an insurance company would pay. One pathology lab’s bill alone was $3,290.” [Time, 3/5/09]

2002 – Heather Kofke-Egger’s Experience With Short-term Plans Demonstrates How Junk Plans Can Leave Customers Behind When They Need Support The Most. “Heather Kofke-Egger knows first-hand the risks of depending on a plan with skimpy benefits. Just out of college in 2002, she could pay $450 a month for a health plan offered to new graduates, or $85 a month for a short-term plan. ‘I knew I was taking a risk,’ she said. ‘Plans didn’t cover pre-existing conditions, but without a job lined up, I had no way to pay the [higher] premiums.’…Diagnosed with depression in college, Kofke-Egger was doing well upon graduation. She filled a 90-day supply of antidepressants before leaving school and hoped to have a job with health insurance by the time she needed a refill…Without a prescription drug benefit, Kofke-Egger was paying more than $600 a month for medication and therapy. ‘About half my gross pay went to medical care,’ she said. ‘I was struggling to get myself to work each day.’ Short-duration plans give you a feeling of safety, Kofke-Egger said, but not a full understanding of the lack of protections. ‘You have to read the fine print really carefully,’ she said. Young people may be especially vulnerable.”  [CNBC, 10/7/18]

KEY INSURANCE STAKEHOLDERS AGREE: JUNK PLANS ARE RIPE FOR ABUSE, OFTEN SOLD IN MISLEADING WAY

Georgetown Center On Health Insurance Reforms: As Bills Start To Pile Up Under Short-Term Plans, Many Folks Would Realize “They’re Not Really Insured At All.” “If you are pregnant, you will have to find another way to pay for the cost of your pre-natal care and labor and delivery (maternity care charges for a normal birth average $32,093; $51,125 for an uncomplicated C-section). If you get cancer, your plan will not cover oncology drugs, which can cost an average of $10,000 per month. If you are hospitalized, you may find yourself owing hundreds of thousands of dollars for services that are not covered by your plan.” [Georgetown Center On Health Insurance Reforms, 7/26/18]

State Insurance Regulators Express Concern That Short-Term Plans Are Being Marketed To Consumers In Misleading Way. “State insurance regulators, gathered over the past three days for a meeting of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, expressed deep concern that short-term plans were being aggressively marketed in ways likely to mislead consumers. Many said the plans, which need not comply with the Affordable Care Act’s coverage mandates, were a poor substitute for comprehensive insurance.” [New York Times, 8/6/18]

North Dakota Insurance Commissioner: There Are Plenty Of “Bad Actors” Selling Short-term Plans That Are “Looking To Take Advantage Of Consumers.” “There are plenty of good actors in the marketplace who are reputable and will offer these products appropriately, but there are also many bad actors that are looking to take advantage of consumers as they explore their health insurance options.” [Bismarck Tribune, 9/19/18]

Troy Oechsner, Deputy Superintendent At New York Department Of Financial Services: “These Are Substandard Products.” “‘These are substandard products,’ sold on the premise that ‘junk insurance is better than nothing’ for people who cannot afford comprehensive coverage, Troy J. Oechsner, a deputy superintendent at the New York Department of Financial Services, told the insurers.” [New York Times, 8/6/18]

National Association of Insurance Commissioners Report Confirms That With Short-Term Plans, A Significantly Higher Percentage Of Money Goes Toward Administrative Costs And Profits Than Care. The NAIC report reveals that the largest seller of short-term plans, UnitedHealth, has a medical loss ratio, the ratio of money that goes toward care versus administrative costs and profits, of 43.7 percent, compared to the ACA-mandated minimum of 80 percent. [NAIC, July 2018]

98 Percent Of Health Groups That Submitted Comments To HHS Have Serious Concerns About The Short-Term Proposal.  “More than 98% — or 335 of 340 — of the healthcare groups that commented on the proposal to loosen restrictions on short-term health plans criticized it, in many cases warning that the rule could gravely hurt sick patients.” [Los Angeles Times, 5/30/18]