After call from Pa. officials, Willow Grove insurance broker takes down 'Health Exchange' website
Consumer advocates and federal health officials say they're on the lookout for Affordable Care Act scams and opportunists. This week, WHYY/NewsWorks has been monitoring a website from a health insurance broker in Willow Grove that could have easily been confused for a government site.
On Tuesday, PAhealthexchange.com featured a logo that looked a lot like the Seal of Pennsylvania. The website said "Welcome to the Pennsylvania Health Exchange!" a "hub for all your health insurance needs."
The state seal vanished by Tuesday afternoon, but the website remained. A day later, the entire site disappeared.
Willow Grove insurance broker Allen Heffler is behind the website. He said a state Insurance Department official called him and said the site was causing confusion.
"I shut it down immediately," Heffler said.
Heffler has a separate business website under his own name. In several places online, he lists his business address and uses his image to market himself.
On the PAhealthexchange.com site, a phone number led visitors to Heffler, but his name and picture were not included.
Pennsylvania Insurance Department spokeswoman Melissa Fox says the state's enforcement bureau reviewed PAhealthexchange.com, then called Heffler.
"We expressed our concerns that using the seal was misleading and could be misrepresented that the site is operated by, connected with or endorsed by the commonwealth," Fox said in an email statement.
"This site was none of those things and subsequently taken down. We do not believe that this individual acted maliciously or purposely tried to dupe consumers," Fox said.
Heffler explained why he launched the site: "Initially, we really wanted the website to be for people to get information about the future health insurance marketplaces, and eventually help facilitate people with the purchase of health insurance."
The federal government is setting up the official, one-stop, online health insurance exchange—or shopping marketplace—for Pennsylvania. It is the only place that residents can apply for ObamaCare tax credits and subsidies.
Consumer health advocates say they've been bracing for attempts to divert people from the official shopping marketplace.
When Ann Bacharach with the Pennsylvania Health Law Project reviewed Heffler's site, she alerted officials at the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Bacharach said she wanted to nudge the federal officials to get the word out about the official exchange site.
"What I was suggesting to colleagues at CMS is that perhaps they want to run some Google ads," she said. "When you google Pennsylvania Health Exchange, you don't get any information on the wonderful Healthcare.gov site," Bacharach said.
Insurance brokers—such as Heffler—will have a role linking people with health plans once open enrollment begins in October, but federal officials have not widely discussed how that will work.
In an email, a spokesman with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said the administration is focused, this summer, on outreach and education—including helping people know what to do when they suspect fraud.