Health Insurance Team pays $50,000 for deceptive use of a near-identical domain name as the official Exchange
OLYMPIA — Attorney General Bob Ferguson today secured a court order against Health Insurance Team, a Seattle-based insurance company, for imitating the official state-run health insurance exchange. Ferguson’s complaint, filed today along with the order, asserts that Health Insurance Team’s marketing violated the Consumer Protection Act’s prohibition on deceptive advertising.
The court order, approved by King County Superior Court, legally requires the insurance company to stop its use of domain names and branding that are similar to the state exchange. The company must also pay $50,000 to the Attorney General’s Office, which will be used for future enforcement of the Consumer Protection Act.
Health Insurance Team — a private health insurance broker — imitated the official state-run insurance exchange in order to drive consumers to purchase plans on its own site instead. Health Insurance Team created a website domain name, washingtonhealthplanfinder.org, that was nearly identical to the one used by the official state exchange, wahealthplanfinder.org. This official website is the only place Washingtonians can access tax credits and other federal assistance related to their health plans. Health Insurance Team also registered several other domain names using the phrase “healthplanfinder,” even though the company had no prior history of using the phrase.
Moreover, the company used branding and logo design that looked similar to that for Washington Healthplanfinder.
Health Insurance Team’s 2013 website header (right) displayed similarities to the 2013 Washington Healthplanfinder logo (left).
“In the midst of an ongoing public health crisis, Washingtonians deserve clear, accurate information about their health care options,” Ferguson said. “If you come across an imitation site posing as the real health care exchange, please contact my office. We will hold companies accountable for mimicking websites that deceive Washingtonians shopping for health care coverage.”
“The Exchange urges Washingtonians to be cautious about fake health care websites that are posing as Washington Healthplanfinder, Washington’s official health insurance marketplace,” said Michael Marchand, Chief Marketing Officer at the Exchange. “To avoid being taken advantage of, we encourage consumers to enroll in health coverage with certified individuals and visit the correct website address at wahealthplanfinder.org.”
On Oct. 23, 2012, the state exchange announced its platform name, Washington Healthplanfinder, along with its logo and tagline. That same day, Health Insurance Team registered 12 domain names that incorporate the phrase “healthplanfinder.” These included the domain names “washingtonhealthplanfinder.org” and “wahealthplanfinders.org.” Before the launch of the state exchange’s platform, the company had no history of using the phrase “healthplanfinder.”
A representative from the Washington Health Benefit Exchange informed the Attorney General’s Office of this conduct, prompting the office’s investigation.
Health Insurance Team continued to use the deceptive domain name until this year. Today’s consent decree requires the company to stop all use of these domain names and prevents the company from continuing to use them, or any other deceptive marketing materials, in the future.
Assistant Attorneys General Will O’Connor and Audrey Udashen are leading the case for the Attorney General’s Office.
Protect yourself from copy-cat websites
To report a website posing as the health benefits exchange, file a complaint with the Washington State Attorney General's Office.
Enrollment for the purchase of health insurance opens this year on Nov. 1 and runs through Dec. 15 for coverage beginning Jan. 1, 2021. During this time, Washington residents can find, compare and enroll in new health plans through the state’s official health insurance marketplace at wahealthplanfinder.org. On the website, Washingtonians can find out whether they qualify for free or low-cost coverage.
The official marketplace for Washingtonians is the only place individuals can access tax credits and other federal assistance. The insurance plans offered by the Washington Health Benefit Exchange are the only plans to have guaranteed consumer protections and coverage, which plans purchased outside the marketplace may not.
Watch out for sham websites built to mimic the official exchange in order to steal private information, or websites that may look like the official site but contain incomplete or inaccurate information. To avoid scams, follow these tips while shopping for health insurance:
- Verify the web address of the exchange: The only official web address for the online marketplace is www.wahealthplanfinder.org. Any other site with a variation on the name or with an address that ends in “.net” or “.com” is not the state’s official marketplace. If you are unsure whether you have found the official website, call Washington Healthplanfinder toll-free at 1-855-WAFINDER.
- Don’t pay for free stuff: The official marketplace for the state of Washington is the only place where you can receive tax credits, subsidies or access to free coverage through Medicaid or Washington Apple Health. Washingtonians never have to pay to sign up for free or low-cost health coverage in the marketplace.
Reach out to free, legitimate help: Only individuals who are certified by Washington Healthplanfinder or Medicaid to assist you with the enrollment process should request personal information to complete your application during a scheduled visit. This help is always free. If you don’t know whether someone is certified to assist you, call the Washington Healthplanfinder Customer Support Center at 1-855-WAFINDER. Community volunteers trained by Medicaid can be verified by calling 1-800-562-3022 or emailing AskMedicaid@hca.wa.gov.
The Office of the Attorney General is the chief legal office for the state of Washington with attorneys and staff in 27 divisions across the state providing legal services to roughly 200 state agencies, boards and commissions. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.
Dan Jackson, Acting Communications Director, (360) 753-2716; email@example.com
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