Camden Couple Goes Astray Buying Insurance Plan
CAMDEN COUNTY - Cynthia Broyles was trying to get health insurance. She never expected it to go like this.
"I freaked, I did, I freaked out," Broyles said. "I came home and said honey what is this, I don't know what they're talking about."
Broyles applied for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) back in December. She chose Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield as her provider on healthcare.gov. From there, she shopped through the plans offered.
"So I went through all their plans, they had a bronze plan, Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield HSA Bronze Plan," Broyles said. "$9.18 a month. It's like a $6,500 deductible, and I thought well, I can afford the nine dollars."
Once she signed up, she started receiving letters from a company called "Benefit Wallet." The company asked her to open a health savings account with them due to her choosing the plan she did. The HSA in the title of the plan told her it was a health savings account. But Broyles did not know that.
"I was never told I needed to open a health savings account in order to have this insurance," Broyles said. "I keep getting letters from them stating that we haven't received your information, we haven't received your signature, you have to put x amount of dollars in to open this account. I had no idea what they were talking about."
That's when her husband, Don, began to get involved. He was worried his personal information was at stake with his wife's.
"Since my wife and I signed a joint income tax return, then my information is also included," Broyles said. "My income, my house, they know everything. Credit cards--they know everything."
Don Broyles explained how he called BNY Mellon and talked to a representative named Christopher. After explaining the situation to the representative, but said the man would not connect him to a supervisor and told him that his wife's employer had signed her up for the account.
"I last worked for two weeks in 2010 for the U.S. Census," Cynthia Broyles said. "How can my employer sign me up for something when I don't have an employer and I haven't worked for four years?"
The Broyles did not understand how this was happening. But it comes back to one factor: the definition of an HSA.
"It was in the title of the plan but it did not explain in any way shape or form what "HSA" stood for," Cynthia Broyles said.
An HSA, as defined by the Affordable Care Act's website here, is "a medical savings account available to taxpayers who are enrolled in a High Deductible Health Plan. The funds contributed to the account aren't subject to federal income tax at the time of deposit." On page seven of Anthem's policy book for its Missouri Marketplace plans, it explains that "ACS|BNY Mellon is an independent corporate entity that provides banking administration on behalf of Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield" for HSAs. Benefit Wallet, which falls under BNY Mellon Bank, "administers health accounts for over 30,000 employers," according to its website.
Graham McCaulley, an extension associate with the personal financial planning extension at the University of Missouri, has become very familiar with the Affordable Care Act. He looked into the Broyles situation.
"They were concerned their information had been sold or they were concerned the account had been opened fraudulently," McCaulley said. "When I was looking into it, it looked to me like they selected a plan that came with a health savings account and that this was the company Anthem used to administer those accounts. So when I called and I asked them to read me the title of the insurance plan off the card, it said with HSA, so I let them know that their information probably wasn't sold. This was actually what they purchased."
McCaulley said he doesn't know what the Broyles originally saw online. He acknowledged his background helps him understand what terms like HSA mean.
"I have a little bit of a background in health insurance so I knew what that meant, but everybody might not know what that means," McCaulley said.
McCaulley said consumers should learn as much as possible before purchasing insurance.
"I think any time a consumer is making a purchase, it's good to get all the information you can, especially if you don't understand something," McCaulley said. "With the marketplace, it does offer consumers direct access and they're able to make these choices on their own. But it's important that if you don't understand exactly what you're purchasing, that you contact either a navigator or certified application counselor, and that could be someone who could sit down with you in person to go over the plan."
But McCaulley said the companies are not without blame.
"There's also a need for in general for companies to communicate as clearly as possible with consumers," McCaulley said.
A health savings account can be beneficial for the average working person, according to McCaulley.
"The main reason people would use a health savings account is because of the tax benefits so when you have a plan that has a lower monthly premium but a higher deductible, you may anticipate paying out of pocket throughout the year for those medical expenses," McCaulley said. "The health savings account can help some people because you can take that money you were going to spend and put it in that account and then you won't be taxed on it when you file your income taxes."
For Don and Cynthia Broyles, that isn't helpful.
"That's great if you're working. I've been retired for 20 years," Don Broyles said. "I've been with the same bank here 20 years. If I was going to open a health savings account, I'd go to them."
McCaulley said he doesn't understand why Benefit Wallet told the Broyles Cynthia's employer signed her up.
"Yeah I don't know why Benefit Wallet would say that to them," McCaulley said. "When I've been on Benefit Wallet's site, a lot of the language they're using gave me the impression that most of the health savings accounts they have are people with employers and the employers offer that. So maybe they had a representative who didn't do all the research they should have and just assumed that the employer opened the account."
The Broyles have tried to contact Anthem and Benefit Wallet, but haven't had much luck.
"If you're going to call them, unless you got a special number that's not available, you better plan on having lots of coffee handy and snacks, because you're going to be on hold for at least an hour and a half to two hours several times like I was with both of them," Don Broyles said. "The people you get on the other end basically are salespeople reading a script off a computer monitor. They do not know what is going on with the rest of it."
"I had talked to three different customer representatives from Anthem that helped me walk through this procedure, and not once did any of them tell me what the HSA stood for," Cynthia Broyles said.
Now, Cynthia Broyles is trying to get the account taken off her plan. McCaulley thinks this situation shows there needs to be more healthcare education.
"It's possible that there is a need for health insurance literacy, understanding the different terms, and not just going off what the cheapest plan is," McCaulley said.
KOMU 8 News called and left messages for both Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield and Benefit Wallet, but neither company returned the calls.