Sep 30, 2019

Ads for "Trumpcare," which doesn't exist, are everywhere

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Do a quick search for health insurance, and you'll find plenty of ads for "Trumpcare" plans that cost $59 or less per month. But there's a catch: Trumpcare doesn't exist, and many of these advertised plans offer bare-bones coverage.

Why it matters: For people who buy health insurance on their own instead of receiving it through an employer, searching for a plan is already challenging. And deceptive marketing only makes it harder, especially when these plans will leave consumers on the hook for potentially ruinous medical bills.

Reality check: The primary way the Trump administration has altered the insurance market is by expanding niche products — including short-term plans, association plans and health reimbursement arrangements.

After seeing Trumpcare ads in search engines, I submitted contact information to get quotes about coverage options. Over the the next week, I was bombarded with 70 phone calls and 12 texts from insurance brokers.

  • Every broker I spoke to admitted there is no such thing as Trumpcare, and that it is a marketing ploy from the lead generator site.
  • When I asked how I could get the plan that was advertised for $59 or less per month, brokers said the ads were in reference to short-term plans or fixed indemnity plans that offer little to no coverage for serious illness or injury.

What they're saying: "These websites that are selling 'Trumpcare' are capitalizing on the fact that very few people know what's going on," said Louise Norris, an independent insurance broker in Colorado.

  • One family who recently bought a short-term plan through Health Insurance Innovations, a platform that has used fraudulent brokers, was on the hook for more than $244,000 in medical bills even though they thought they were protected, Bloomberg reported.

The other side: Jeff Smedsrud, co-founder of HealthCare.com, a site that has advertised "Trumpcare" plans, said he didn't think it was misleading to use that framing for plans that are sold through its brokers.

  • "Could it lead to confusion? I don't think it has. Anything is possible," he said. "I'll certainly look at what we do. I may have our team change our mind on that."

The bottom line: "It's impossible to expect consumers to discern between the good guys and the con artists," said Sabrina Corlette, a health insurance researcher at Georgetown University. "And it's not the good guys that pop up on the first page of your Google search results."

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