Forums are being offered around the country about the Affordable Care Act.
A group calling itself the Obamacare Enrollment Team is providing information and answering questions.
But the people on the team do not work for the federal government, and they’re pushing products sold by a South Florida insurance company.
A team consisting of a Lakeland pastor and a lobbyist hosted a healthcare forum this week at a church in Tallahassee. The two-dozen attendees - mostly elderly African Americans – did not know the duo was connected to the Fiorella Insurance Agency in Stuart until reporters started asking questions.
The Florida Attorney General’s Office has received a complaint that the team is misleading consumers about who its employees work for.
The Obamacare Enrollment Team uses different websites to promote its forums hosted by different pastors and representatives in other states.
Tia Mitchell in the Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau was at the meeting in Tallahassee and tells us why concerns are being raised about the group.
WLRN: How does the event appear to people who stop by for information?
Mitchell: The event looks like an Affordable Care Act forum that is tied actually to the federal government or at least people who are certified and authorized to speak about the law. It’s sponsored by the Obamacare Enrollment Team.
They use the red, white and blue "O" logo that President Barack Obama used during his campaign. So they really give an air of legitimacy and an air of being tied to the federal government. But when you dig deeper into the group… they’re a group that is a subsidiary of an insurance company that’s based in Stuart.
WLRN: Katrina Copeland and Pastor H.B. Holmes hosted the forum at St. Mary's Primitive Baptist Church in Tallahassee. What should we know about them?
Mitchell: After I raised questions at the forum, they did admit that they represent insurance agents. I did mention the company and they didn’t deny that they were affiliated with the company. And they did admit that they do not work for the federal government, which some people in the audience were surprised to hear.
(The duo included) a pastor from Lakeland - his name is Pastor H.B. Holmes. There is a woman (Katrina Copeland) who registered as a lobbyist – anyone can submit paperwork and file it saying ‘I want to be a lobbyist.’ That’s what she did, but she only represents herself and she hasn’t submitted any paperwork since 2011. But even if she were an active lobbyist in D.C., those people still for the most part don’t have the certification or the training to speak on behalf of the healthcare law.
WLRN: So, it’s okay for now for this group to use the Obamacare moniker?
Mitchell: No one has so far in Florida or anywhere else I can tell told the group to change its logo or its name. But the group seems to have just kicked off its activities within the last week or so, and media are just now starting to report on the group and raise concerns.
To be clear, insurance agents are signing people up for health insurance everyday. There’s nothing wrong or illegal about that. With the healthcare law being so prominent, more people are shopping for insurance. So insurance agencies are very busy right now.
But the concern about this Obamacare Enrollment Team is that they don’t seem to be as forthcoming about their ties to the insurance agency, and people could be misled – thinking that they’re an organization that represents the federal government. Some of the websites they use make that clear; other ones… do not make that clear.
The concern is that people who are looking to make money off of the law might be confusing constituents who just want information that’s unbiased.
For example, the insurance company... only represents one insurance (provider), which is Blue Cross-Blue Shield of Florida. So of course, they’re pushing Blue Cross, Blue Shield of Florida even though there are other insurance companies that have policies that could qualify for the subsidies and that are on the health exchange. But you didn’t hear that at the forum they had in Tallahassee – you only heard about Blue Cross-Blue Shield of Florida.
When they write policies for whatever company, they get a portion of the proceeds. That’s just how it works. There’s nothing illegal about that. That’s how they make money - when it comes through their agency – as opposed to people (going) straight on the health exchange to buy policies.
If these same customers went to an unbiased resource that was affiliated with the federal government, they might have had a little bit more information about the different choices.
WLRN: Bottom line – what do people need to know about groups like this?
Mitchell: If they want information about the healthcare law, they need to go to healthcare.gov or call 1-800-318-2596. They need to go to people who have been trained as navigators or people who are certified by the federal government, and they can ask for that documentation if they’re not sure if someone is certified.
They can go on healthcare.gov and put in their zip code to find out who the navigators are in their area. They can call Florida Covering Kids and Families at the University of South Florida. But they need to seek out unbiased, certified, trained people who have information about the law - to be on the safe side.