On Oct. 1, health insurance exchanges opened in West Virginia and throughout the nation to sign people up for insurance as part of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.
This is a significant change because for the first time ever, every American citizen will be required to have health insurance by Jan. 1 or face tax penalties.
This law is expected to affect tens of thousands of West Virginians who currently do not have health insurance and will be required to either buy private insurance on the exchange or take part in government-funded public insurance.
But the general confusion about this law — what consumers need to buy and how they should buy it — also is opening the door for schemers who may use this opportunity to take advantage of you or your neighbors.
Our office's Consumer Protection Division will play a pivotal role in protecting consumers' privacy and fighting fraudulent schemes that will arise from the implementation of the new law.
Over the next several months, we will actively work with citizens of West Virginia to educate them on facts they need to know about the new law and take calls through our hotline if they encounter problems.
Any time new programs roll out, there are bound to be unethical people who try to take advantage of confusion. Each person should take the time to learn about the new law and what it means to them using trusted, reliable sources.
However, our office also is trying to educate consumers about the do's and don'ts when it comes to health care:
n Do not give any personal or financial information to people who make unsolicited calls or visits and say you must provide the information to either receive or keep health insurance coverage. Reputable sources will not use strong-arm tactics or intimidation to get you to surrender private information. Significantly, navigators are prohibited from going door to door.
n Do not believe anyone who threatens you with a fine for not having health insurance. While there will be a penalty on people who do not have some form of health insurance beginning in 2014, that penalty will be assessed on federal income tax returns; it will not come in the form of a bill or someone calling and demanding a payment.