Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed suit against a Texas company for allegedly marketing health care discount cards that misled consumers into believing they were buying health insurance instead of mere discounted fees on health care services - discounts often not even accepted by providers.
Madigan said her office has received more than 120 complaints from Illinois consumers since January 2002 about companies that masquerade as health care. The number of complaints doubled from 2003 to 2004. The discount health care card companies aggressively market their products through radio ads, blast faxes and circulars.
Madigan, noting that more than a million Illinoisans lack health care insurance, said she is also working with lawmkers to craft legislation designed to end deception by companies falsely parading as actual health insurance providers.
"If you see or hear ads that trumpet such terms as 'Affordable Healthcare,' 'Health care for the entire family for only $89.95 a month' or 'All Medical Conditions Accepted,' a reasonable person will probably assume this ad is for a health care plan," Madigan said.
"Illinois consumers are being deceived into thinking that they are finally able to achieve health care security when in fact all they may receive is a few dollars off of a service, and thats only if a provider agrees to accept their health care discount card. What these consumers are truly gaining access to is deception, disappointment, and very often, massive debt."
Madigans complaint charges a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit organization, International Association of Benefits, formerly International Association of Businesses, and a Texas corporation, HealthCorp International, Inc., all doing business as IAB, 701 Highlander Dr., Arlington, Texas, with violations of the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act.
The company markets its health care-related cash discount cards at www.iabbenefits.com.
According to one of the nine complaints lodged with Madigans Health Care Bureau against IAB, a consumer reported to Madigans office that he signed up with IAB after hearing a radio ad allegedly stating that IAB was an insurance company.
The man alleges the company quoted the savings he would realize when pre-certifying a planned hospitalization. When he submitted his hospital bills to IAB, the consumer allegedly discovered it was merely a health care discount card. While the Attorney Generals office was able to get his premiums refunded, the south suburban consumer now owes more than $7,000 to a south suburban Chicago hospital.
Another consumer received a flyer stating IABs coverage was a nationwide PPO and would provide reimbursements for office visits and access to PPO hospitals, doctors, dentists and other medical services.
The consumer paid a $100 enrollment fee and a monthly premium of $89.95 for the services, and allegedly was told he could cancel the plan within 30 days of purchase. However, he and other consumers reported that IAB refused to refund their money once the consumers realized that IABs product was not insurance. In one case, IAB finally returned the payment only after Madigans Health Care Bureau intervened.
Madigans suit also alleges IAB misled consumers by fraudulently displaying a Better Business Bureau seal on its Web site and listing health care providers as participating in its discount program, when in fact, these providers would not honor the discount. Additionally, IAB was not legally registered with the Illinois Secretary of State or the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulations Division of Insurance.
Madigans suit seeks to permanently prohibit the company from doing business in Illinois. The suit also seeks to recover restitution for consumers, and asks the court to impose a civil penalty of $50,000 and additional penalties of $50,000 per violation committed with the intent to defraud. Madigans suit also seeks an additional civil penalty of $10,000 per violation committed against a person aged 65 and older.