Office of the Attorney General
Albany, NY 12224-0341
Honorable Attorney General Schneiderman:
I am writing to enlist your efforts to remedy the lack of state oversight of health insurance companies under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“PPACA”).
I have admired the courageous and proactive steps your office has taken against the perpetrators of various frauds and urge you to consider this letter in the context of systemic healthcare-related fraud against a large class of vulnerable citizens of New York State.
Defrauded health insurance consumers in New York State have no forum where complaints can be resolved, outside of the NYS Department of Financial Services, which, it turns out, does not hear such complaints.
The fraud department investigator there could not find a word other than fraud to describe what I detailed, but urged me to call the NY State Department of Financial Services Consumer Services Hotline. He assured me that they were the specialists in this area. The answering machine at the hotline, which I recognized from my first call, offers no option for resolving issues with health insurance companies regulated by the ACA, or otherwise.
On my original call, a long wait to speak to a representative yielded the number of the proper federal agency to contact. Calls to the U.S Department of Health and Human Services are robotically routed to a NY State number that is, sadly, the office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, where some helpful party connects you to a fraud hotline, which turns out to be at the office of the Medicaid Inspector General, where the office of legal affairs is also sympathetic, but unable to help, and so forth.
I understand that the PPACA was drafted by Liz Fowler, a career health industry insider who went on to an executive position with Johnson & Johnson immediately after her work on the PPACA was done. I have witnessed the many attempts to repeal the law, rather than fix any of its original flaws, as most other complicated laws are tweaked and improved over time. Even so, the lack of any provision for oversight of ACA programs by New York State is grotesque. As a cardiac patient unable to see a cardiologist now for many months, the lack of oversight may also be deadly.
Although the situation I’m complaining of is personal and extremely aggravating, it is typical. I’ve commiserated with others who suffer under similar insurance coverage. Erroneous bills are a common, if relatively innocuous, theme.
I receive bills that there is no way to resolve, most recently an invoice for $1,324 for a fully covered sonogram I had in August. It was resolved with the insurance company (Empire) and the provider to a zero balance in October. Two months later, the full bill for $1,342 was sent to me again in a Third Notice. Nobody at Empire could give me the reason the provider had sent that bill, although the representative, who checked my account and called the provider again, informed me that, this time, it was my responsibility to pay it in full.
Empire recently sent me an email warning of termination of my insurance for non-payment of December’s premium two weeks after their email confirmation of my payment for December and January.
More ominously, you can be denied medical service without explanation (provider NPI numbers and CPT codes notwithstanding), and there is nobody in New York State you can appeal to, except to the company itself. Empire Blue Cross “Health Plus” recently sent me to two providers for needed medical services, a cardiologist and a physical therapy facility. Neither provided me with any service.
I received the site-specific NPI number for the cardiologist, scanned and emailed the back and front of my insurance card, got pre-approval from his office. The consultation was halted ten minutes in and I was informed that my insurance would not cover the visit. When I arrived at the nearby ‘physical therapy facility’ Empire had referred me to, it was a nursing home. They offer PT, but only to residents.
The circuit of government agencies I have contacted in vain came full circle with the “consumer help line” the NYS Department of Financial Services Fraud Unit investigator had me call, which I immediately recognized as the very first number I’d called. Here is a summary of that cul du sac:
NYS Department of Financial Services referred me initially to the US Dept of Health and Human Services which connected me to NYS Health and Human Services, although an incorrect branch of that agency, the pertinent branch apparently having been merged into the NYS Department of Financial Services which took over all functions of the former NYS Insurance Department, as well as the NYS Banking Department.
The NYS Department of Financial services, it appears, conducts all oversight of health insurance, as well as all fraud investigations related to consumer fraud against insurance companies, and complaints about the practices of banks and brokers. Everything but, according to John Marconi, a fraud investigator there, apparent fraud committed by insurance companies against mandated health-care “consumers” in New York State.
My political and legal conclusions are beside the point. Whatever the reasons, the fact remains that in New York State in 2017, even under the PPACA, citizens whose health is menaced by private insurance company denials have no redress.
Outside of a possible Article 78 (which government agency would you sue for relief? The Department of Financial Services?) or a class action under a private attorney general or qui tam statute, what is a patient trying to get an appointment to see a cardiologist since August to do under the Patient Protection Act in New York State? At minimum an ombudsperson, or a few hundred of them, would be a good start.
As I stated above, I’ve followed your career from the start and have admired your principled engagement in the fight against injustice. To have a legal right that cannot be enforced is to have no legal right. While certain injustice is accounted “the price of freedom”, the lack of legal recourse for denial of health care must not be allowed to stand in New York State.
I look forward to hearing from your office and stand ready to give any other details needed.