I was listening to the KDWB morning show on my way to work last week, mostly because they were playing a Justin Timberlake song. I turned the radio up when I heard Steve-O, one of the morning hosts, talking about Obamacare in an advertisement.
“You’ve probably heard of this new act where everybody needs to have health insurance by 2014 or pay a penalty and you’re wondering how, where or what, and you’re probably wondering how much is this going to cost me?” he said.
I thought it was an ad for MNsure, but then Steve-O said, “your first step to finding out is caretaxcredit.com. Find out in seconds if you can get financial help with purchasing insurance.”
It turns out that the pitch was another example of how companies are looking to take advantage of the confusion swirling around the debut of the Affordable Care Act.
In the case of caretaxcredit.com, Marc Pierce, CEO of CareXtend, the Illinois-based company that runs the web site, said the site is intended to provide a quick estimate of subsidies, something that he says is not easy to do on MNsure or HealthCare.gov, the state and federal health care exchanges.
But Pierce also said the site is intended to draw customers to buy other services through his CareXtend website. It sells laser hair removal, teeth whitening, acupuncture and other services.
The ads have been airing in Minnesota since Oct. 16. Once on the site, caretaxcredit.com asks for basic information, such as ZIP code, income and household size. Then the website reveals an estimated annual and monthly subsidy amount, along with estimates for the different coverage levels offered through MNsure.
Pierce said that their calculator, which pulls in data from health exchanges across the country, is the quickest way to get this information.
“On sites like MNsure and HealthCare.gov, you have to register,” Pierce said. “Ten minutes later you can finally see what a premium would be, but those who are wondering if they are eligible at all can’t find out quickly.”
The site has a disclaimer saying “this is only an estimate and not a guarantee. Actual results will vary. The numbers provided are for illustrative purposes only and cannot be relied upon.”
Pierce said the calculator serves as a “feeder” into the CareXtend marketplace.
“If you could get insurance, make sure you do it, but also recognize you spend a lot of money on things that are not covered and here are some ways you can save some money for things you pay for out-of-pocket,” Pierce said.
Asked about the company’s offer, a representative of MNsure said the state-run exchange is the “only place where consumers can find out if they do indeed qualify for tax subsidies.”
MNsure spokeswoman Jenni Bowring-McDonough said the exchange offers a number of resources to help those who are still confused about the requirements, pricing or subsidies. She urged people to go to MNsure.org or call 1-855-366-7873 “for information they can trust.”
Dan Hendrickson, with the Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota, said they have not received any complaints about CareXtend or caretaxcredit.com, and said the KDWB ad “is only misleading in that it doesn’t mention there is an official site where people can get all of this information.”
Hendrickson said the health care law is here to stay and consumers can expect to see companies that are going to start tailoring products that target health insurance shoppers.
“The main thing is that the company should be clear with consumers on what they are selling,” Hendrickson said. “I should know if I’m on a secondary site.”