By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
State Auditor John Morrison, who is running for re-election, stopped in Havre on Thursday as part of a different campaign - against phony health insurance plans.
"(The plans) are worse than being uninsured, because they take your money in return for leaving you uninsured," Morrison said in an interview.
Morrison, who will face Republican Duane Grimes in the November election, said the plans are advertising low premiums, low or nonexistent co-payments and deductibles, and little to no requirements to apply for policies.
Morrison met with representatives of Northern Montana Health Care and with a group of downtown business owners to tell them about health insurance scams his office is investigating and companies it has ordered to stop operating in Montana.
The Auditor's Office has issued a cease and desist order to 15 entities and their agents for selling fake health insurance plans in Montana. Morrison said his office is investigating complaints about 45 others.
The false plans are typically being marketed through faxed advertisements, although ads have also been purchased in Montana newspapers and have been sent to people via e-mail, Morrison said.
The first cease and desist order was announced in Billings, after St. Vincent Healthcare and Deaconess Billings Clinic reported that hundreds of patients had presented insurance cards for fake plans, he said. His office has received complaints from across the state, including many from Missoula, where he announced another cease and desist order.
Many consumers learn that their plans are worthless after they've received treatment and the hospital tries to process the claim, he said.
"The hospital has to tell them their card is worthless," Morrison said.
Whenever someone has questions about a health insurance plan they are looking at, they should call the Auditor's Office, he said.
"The best advice is, if you're looking at a health insurance plan and you're not completely familiar with who offers the plan, call the state Auditor's Office to see if they're licensed," Morrison said.
Many fraudulent companies will tell the people they are trying to scam that the company doesn't need to be licensed, or is regulated federally instead of under state law, he said.
"Don't believe them," Morrison added.
Premiums are often advertised as covering an individual or an entire family at the same monthly charge. They advertise prescription drug cards that cover all but $15 or $20 for the cost of drugs. The company may say that no health questions will be asked before the policy is issued.
"That's one of the red flags," Morrison said.
The Auditor's Office is working on several policy proposals it will offer to the Legislature that will help people and businesses obtain affordable health insurance, he said.
"In the meantime, we don't want people to fall for fake health insurance plans," Morrison said.
To ask about a health insurance plan, call the Auditor's Office at (800) 332-6148, or visit the Web site at www.sao.state.mt.us.