White House launches anti-fraud effort ahead of health care kickoff

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With less than two weeks before President Obama’s new health care law kicks in, the White House launched an anti-fraud effort Wednesday to warn consumers that scam artists could try to steal their personal financial and health records.

Top administration officials, including Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius attended a summit at the White House with state officials to plot their strategy for educating the public about expected Obamacare swindles.

Their prevention effort will include a new bureaucracy to field consumer complaints at a call center, and a “rapid response” mechanism to handle suspected cases of identity theft.

Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Edith Ramirez said the government will be “vigilant as always” in cracking down on fraud.

“At the FTC, we know all too well how scammers invariably try to take advantage of developments in the marketplace and new government programs,” she said.

With consumers preparing to sign up for coverage at insurance exchanges starting Oct. 1, the administration is concerned about the likelihood of people being lured into phony Obamacare websites and revealing personal information.

“Today, we are sending a clear message that we will not tolerate anyone seeking to defraud consumers in the Health Insurance Marketplace,” Mrs. Sebelius said in a statement. “We have strong security safeguards in the marketplace to protect people’s personal information against fraud and we will work with our partners to aggressively prosecute bad actors, just as we have been doing in Medicare, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.”

A senior administration official said consumer fraud is nothing new.

“There are scam artists everywhere trying to take advantage of things,” the official said. “With new programs, new opportunities for scam artists do arise and we need to have a very strong effort to send the message that it will not be tolerated.”

The administration is setting up a toll-free number, 800/318-2596, for consumers to report problems.

The official said the administration is committed to protecting consumers’ personal data.

“No one has access to a person’s private medical records, and they shouldn’t be asking for that information,” he said. “If they are asking for that information, then consumers can understand that’s the wrong place to go.”

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