Fake health-care websites have cropped up like crab grass this fall, as crooks try to dupe consumers shopping for coverage through the insurance exchanges. On Tuesday, Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway shut down a third fraudulent version of kynect.ky.gov. And in California last month, Attorney General Kamala Harris weeded out 10 phony versions of Covered California in one go.
“These websites fraudulently imitated Covered California in order to lure consumers away from plans that provide the benefits of the Affordable Care Act,” she said at the time. “My office will continue to investigate and shut down these kinds of sites.”
But one dubious site survived the California investigation. CoveringHealthCareCA.com is a decoy version of Covered California (CoveredCa.com), the state's online health care marketplace. Though clearly intended to divert people who are looking for the exchange site, the decoy doesn’t sell fake insurance. It was created by the state's own Republican legislators to undermine Obamacare.
California’s GOP assembly members launched the site in late August, with a press release claiming it would help inform state residents about the Affordable Care Act. “Hard-working Californians have serious questions about how the new federal health care mandate will affect them,” the assembly’s GOP leader said. “Our new website will give Californians the answers they are seeking and help them navigate through the confusing bureaucracy of the new federal health care law with ease."
Yet the site’s own fine print concedes that the content may be bunk. “The California State Assembly does not warrant or make any representations as to the quality, content, accuracy, or completeness of the information, text, graphics, links and other items contained on this server,” it says. “Such materials have been compiled from a variety of sources.”
They’ve also been manipulated to promote fear and resentment.
The homepage features consumer-friendly tabs such as “I don’t have health insurance.” But instead of helping users shop for coverage, the resource guide dwells on the individual mandate and the tax penalties for flouting it. There’s a calculator to help you compute your “maximum projected penalty” under the health care law for each of the next three years, but nothing to help you compare insurance plans or check your eligibility for reduced premiums.
In its “background” section, the shadow site claims that the Affordable Care Act will “add over $1 trillion to the federal deficit” by 2022, citing a 2012 report from the Congressional Budget office. But a more recent CBO analysis, conducted at the behest of House Speaker John Boehner, suggested that the health care law would actually reduce the deficit by $109 billion between 2013 and 2022. The CBO also estimated that 30 million uninsured Americans would gain coverage because of the law—a detail the site doesn’t mention.
The site includes special sections to discourage young adults (they’ll “end up paying for much of federal health care reform by subsidizing the cost of sicker people”) and scare senior citizens (cost-control measures could “result in the exodus of doctors from the Medicare system and force Medicare recipients to find new providers”). And it pushes the dubious claim that the Affordable Care Act will cause a national slowdown in hiring.
Until this week, CoveringHealthCareCA.com got little public notice, but it came under withering attack after assembly members sent constituents a pamphlet promoting the site. “It is outrageous that Republican legislators in California are using taxpayer dollars to intentionally mislead their constituents, sow fear and confusion, and divert Californians away from CoveredCA,” the progressive Courage Campaign said in an online petition urging the legislators to take the site down.
That’s not likely to happen. Speaking to ABC News, the GOP assembly members’ communications director dismissed the criticism as “manufactured outrage on the Internet” and “an effort by the left” to distract attention from the “failed implementation” of Obamacare. Still, the outrage is making a difference. The decoy site was updated this week, and now includes a prominent link to the real one.
Note: This article was updated at 9:43 pm on December 4 to clarify the source of current estimates of the health care law's fiscal impact. The estimates come from a July 2012 Congressional Budget Office report to House Speaker John Boehner.