If you’re among the millions of Americans shopping for decent and affordable health insurance, there’s some you need to know. Before you sign up for a plan you’ve seen advertised on TV or the Internet, make sure what the company is selling is really comprehensive major medical insurance. Our latest Hansen Files hidden camera investigation reveals deception, fast talk and in some cases people not ending up with the coverage they thought they had purchased. Here are some tips:
Q. I am not sure if my insurance is major medical. How can I find out if I’ve been misled?
A. Perhaps you didn’t receive your insurance card or policy promptly after signing up, or there are suspicious payment delays. The hospital complains that your plan hasn’t paid your medical bills. The plan keeps putting you off when you call, saying the payment delays are “accounting glitches” or “processing errors,” and you’re beginning to worry…
To make sure the plan is licensed in your state, or If you think you’re dealing with a fraudulent health plan, contact your state insurance department immediately: http://www.naic.org/state_web_map.htm
State insurance departments also have fraud bureaus, and most of them deal with all types of insurance fraud, including health insurance fraud.To contact your state’s fraud bureau, go here: http://www.insurancefraud.org/fraud_bureaus.htm
The Coalition Against Insurance Fraud has put together a list of companies with alleged violations of state laws involving the sale of unauthorized insurance or deceptive sales practices: http://www.insurancefraud.org/healthplan_watchlist.htm
Q. Are there any tip-offs to an insurance scam?
A. Experts say deceptive practices in the health insurance industry are spreading rapidly; those experts say some of the tip-offs may include:
Q. What happens in an association scam?
A. According to the Montana Insurance Commissioner’s office, “an association scam leads you to believe that you have full coverage of major medical health insurance when you really don’t. Here’s how it works: Scammers set up an association and buy cheap health policies with poor coverage from insurance companies. The association hires telemarketers to sell you a “membership.” The telemarketers access your contact information from fake ‘get-a-quote’ websites, and call you on the phone with an aggressive and false or misleading sales pitch, saying whatever it takes to make a sale. You believe them and opt-in to their company’s insurance plan. Then, when you file a claim for a medical service, you discover the policy does not have a medical network and won’t cover your medical costs.” Here is a detailed diagram on how these association scams work: http://sao.mt.gov/associationscam/HowitWorks_AssociationScam.pdf
Q. Are there any clues to look for in the sales pitch?
A. Yes, here are some examples of things to watch out for:
Q. What questions should I ask the licensed insurance agent?
A. Is this insurance Comprehensive Health Insurance? Am I fully covered?
Q. When I looked at the sales materials and the web pages they looked so real!
Could it still be a scam?
A. Questionable or fraudulent plans may have slick, professional-looking websites that encourage you to buy “coverage” online. They may request your credit card or bank account numbers, but don’t let you see the policy beforehand. Even licensed insurance agents are hired to sell questionable plans, so be careful, and don’t be fooled by good packaging.
Q. What steps should I take to avoid getting scammed?
A. If you are in the market for new insurance, it’s recommended to start your search with a reputable, local agent rather than buying it over the phone. But if you feel comfortable buying your insurance over the phone or online, here are some tips to protect you from a scam:
Sources: National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC), Montana Commissioner of Securities & Insurance, The Coalition Against Insurance Fraud.
If you’re like millions of Americans who, along with your spouse or partner, work outside the house, or if you are a single parent, I don’t need to tell you how challenging it can be to find reliable, trustworthy and affordable day care for your children. Well, we here at The Hansen Files have been investigating this for several months now, and there’s something you need to know. We chose five states and cross referenced day care operators with criminal background databases. What we found was alarming. A woman running a day care center who had shot and killed her husband, a day care operator who had left her own child alone in a car, in sweltering heat, as she ran errands and a day car operator arrested for beating her own daughter. These are just a few of the many disturbing cases we uncovered. What’s even more alarming is that in most states, there is no way, short of hiring a private investigator, to know everything about who is watching your kids. By watching our investigation AND USING THE INFORMATION BELOW, you’ll learn the warning signs of dangerous day care, what precise questions to ask of a prospective day care provider and ensure your child doesn’t become a victim.
Q. What’s the most effective way to do a background check?
A. There is no single site for background checks; a thorough check requires consulting several sources, some of which are only available to law enforcement. Our experts say the best solution is to pass a federal law requiring ALL states to run fingerprint checks through law enforcement databases on state and federal level, as well as through sex offender and child abuse registries nationally. Until we do that there are no guarantees. However, to have some measure of confidence that a person doesn’t have a criminal history, you can do your own check of both state and county criminal records, as well as sexual predator and child abuse registries.
Every state has criminal history searches available online – usually there is a small charge for each search. Our advice is to stick with the government sites; there are some commercial background check sites as well, but there’s no way to know how extensive their databases really are. Try various searches like “criminal records (state name)” and “court records (county name).”
Here are some examples of some of the state and local sites:
FL state search: https://web.fdle.state.fl.us/search/app/default
FL criminal record county search: http://www.criminal-records.org/states/florida.html
TX criminal record search: https://records.txdps.state.tx.us/DpsWebsite/Login.aspx?returnUrl=/DpsWebsite/index.aspx
KY criminal record search: http://apps.courts.ky.gov/PublicMenu/default.aspx?redirect=https%3a%2f%2fapps.kycourts.net%2fRecordRequest%2fRequest.aspx
Q. You mentioned Sexual Predator and Child Abuse Registries. How do I find those?
A. Again, you can do an online search for these by state. Try searches like “sex offenders (state name).” Here are some sample search results :
Florida sex offenders: http://offender.fdle.state.fl.us/offender/homepage.do
New York sex offenders: http://www.criminaljustice.ny.gov/nsor/index.htm
CHILD ABUSE AND NEGLECT REGISTRIES
Here is a central site where you can check abuse and neglect registries in each state:
Here is another collection of national, state and federal registry links & related sites.
This one also includes military conviction and federal prison sites:
Q. What should I look for when choosing a Daycare facility (or making sure the one I’m using is a good one)?
A. As a first step, there are MANY checklists of questions to ask the provider (most don’t address the background check issue, so be sure to handle that in addition to whatever else the checklist suggests).
One watchdog group is the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies (NACCRA) http://www.naccrra.org/.
The NACCRA recommends a checklist for parents that is provided by the National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Child Care. That checklist is here: http://childcareaware.org/parents-and-guardians/child-care-101/choosing-child-care
Also, each state licensing agency publishes information about its daycare facilities online.
Keep in mind that each state has a different name for its licensing agency, so to find
the name of the agency in your state, try searches like “daycare licensing (state name).”
Here is an example of info for parents on the Texas state site: http://www.dfps.state.tx.us/Child_Care/Information_for_Parents/default.asp
… and here are links to Texas child safety campaigns: http://www.dfps.state.tx.us/Child_Care/About_Child_Care_Licensing/child_safety_campaigns.asp
Q. What should I do if I suspect my daycare provider of having a criminal past?
A. On the website for each state daycare licensing agency, there should be a link telling parents how to file complaints (see example below):
However, If you feel you have evidence that your child has been hurt or is at risk, contact child protection or law enforcement agencies immediately.
Q. How can I find out about the policy governing daycare providers in my state?
A. A good resource for this is also NACCRA. Note that each state has a different policy governing background checks for daycare centers and family daycare homes (smaller centers caring for kids in homes). Remember that even though a state might require fingerprinting, they may only check state criminal records (as opposed to federal, county, sexual offender, and child abuse records), so parents may have false sense of security. We still recommend doing your own check of all the available records.
In the meantime, here are some links to NACCRA information about background check requirements for daycare providers in different states:
Here is an overview of the issues and pending legislation: http://www.naccrra.org/public-policy/policy-issues/background-checks
Here is a comparison of the different state background check polices – child care centers: http://www.naccrra.org/node/1761
Here is a comparison of state requirements for the smaller family child care homes: http://www.naccrra.org/node/1762
Q. How can I talk to my child about their caregivers to prevent and manage abuse?
A. There is a wide variety of resources for this. Many of them are created by law firms. Here is an example: http://daycareabuse.com/talking-children-about-daycare/
Q. How can I tell if my child might be experiencing abuse?
A. There are GENERAL listings for spotting abuse or neglect anywhere, not just in daycare, from the Center for Child Protection and Family Support:
When it comes to the prescription medicines you and your family take every day, there’s something you need to know. More than a year-long Hansen Files investigation has found the drug safety net in this country—and overseas—may not be as strong as you think. Here is a list of tips and resources to help keep you and your family safe.
Q. What should I do before starting any new drug?
A. Every time you are prescribed a new drug, make sure you fully understand its purpose and how you should take it. Tell your pharmacist about any other medications you are taking, and get answers to all of your questions. You should feel comfortable administering the drug before you leave the pharmacy. Here are some basic questions you might ask:
There are many sites that offer advice on Drug Safety, including questions to ask your pharmacist. Here is a link to more advice from Consumer Reports:
To learn more about the various types of drugs, here are some websites you can visit :
Q. What can I do to make sure a prescription is safe for me?
A. Notify your pharmacist about any other medications you are taking. They can affect how the new drug works in your body, and the new drug can also change the way the old drugs perform. Make sure you understand how the drug works, as well as ALL of the possible side effects. Be sure to take your prescription as instructed! Do not take more than the prescribed dosage. If you are forgetful and think you might miss the time you need to take your medication, set alarms, write reminders, or tell a loved one to remind you. When you pick up your new prescription from the pharmacy, double-check that the pills inside the bottle match the visual pill description on the label, making certain it is the drug your doctor prescribed.
If drug safety issues are a major concern for you or a loved one, you can sign up for U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) news feeds, podcasts on drug safety and email alerts: http://www.fda.gov/Drugs/ucm136245.htm
If you feel you were misinformed about a new drug, there are many consumer advocacy groups that seek to protect the public from unsafe products.
Here are a few examples:
Government Accountability Project (GAP): http://www.whistleblower.org/
Public Citizen: http://www.citizen.org/Page.aspx?pid=183
Project on Government Oversight: http://www.pogo.org/
Q. What should I do if I suspect I am experiencing side effects from medication?
A. Whether or not your symptoms are noted as side effects on your prescription label, call your doctor immediately. If your symptoms are critical or there is immediate danger, call 911.
To learn more about drug side effects, visit these websites:
Q. What is a drug recall?
A. There are different classes of recalls, but generally they are actions taken by a firm to remove a drug from the market because it is either defective or potentially harmful. Sometimes a company discovers a problem and recalls a product on its own. Other times a company recalls a product after the FDA raises concerns. For more information, read Recall Classes and Market Withdrawals: http://www.fda.gov/Safety/Recalls/ucm165546.htm
Q. How will I know if there is a recall on any of my prescriptions?
A. The best way to know if your prescription is recalled is to be proactive. Ask your doctor and pharmacist at each visit if any of your prescribed medications have been recalled, and check the FDA’s website for yourself. Here are a couple of resources:
Drug Recalls List from 2010 to present: http://www.fda.gov/Drugs/DrugSafety/DrugRecalls/default.htm
Drug Topics & Safety, FDA News & Alerts: http://www.fda.gov/Drugs/default.htm
Q. What should I do if I learn that one of my prescription drugs has been recalled?
A. If you are taking a medicine that has been recalled, talk to your doctor immediately to determine the best course of action for you. Depending on the medicine and your condition, your doctor may advise a gradual transition to a different drug, or ask you to stop taking it right away, or some other alternative. Note that pharmacies generally have a return and refund policy when a company has announced a recall of its products.
Q. What are clinical trials, and are they safe?
A. Generally speaking, clinical trials are biomedical or health-related research studies that follow a pre-defined study plan or protocol to discover the effectiveness of drugs in treating various conditions. There are both benefits and risks to participating.
Clinical trials that are well-designed and well-executed allow you to play a more active role in your own health care. You can take advantage of new treatments before they are widely available, and gain access to expert medical care at leading health care facilities during the trial.
There may be unpleasant, serious or even life-threatening side effects to experimental treatment. The protocol may require more of your time and attention than ordinary care, including trips to the study site, more treatments, hospital stays or complex dosage requirements. In the end, the experimental treatment may not be effective for the participant.
Q. What should I consider before participating in a trial?
A. As a participant, find out as much as possible about the clinical trial. You should feel comfortable asking the health care team any and all questions: the care you can expect while in the trial, any related costs, etc. The following questions might be helpful for you to discuss:
For more understanding about Clinical Trial and how do they work: http://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/info/understand
Sources: Consumer Reports, U.S. National Library of Medicine, the Government Accountability Project, Citizens for Responsible Care and Research, Public Citizen, Project on Government Oversight, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and the U.S. National Institute of Health.
Whether you play the lottery every week or only when the jackpot reaches 200 million dollars, you probably think if you’re lucky enough to win, you’ll get your prize money. Well there’s something you need to know… our latest Hansen Files investigation puts lottery retailers and clerks to the test. You’ll be surprised at how many times the winner is told that he or she is a loser. It’s all on hidden camera. How can you protect yourself from getting duped? Here are some tips and resources to protect your winnings.
Q. How can I find out if my ticket is a winner without asking the retailer?
A. There are several ways…
Q. What about the “scratch off” games? Can I check these online?
A. No, “scratch off” cannot be checked online. Some states have consumer ticket checker machines described above (see #3), but many don’t verify “scratch offs.”
Q. What if I have to rely on the retail lottery clerk?
A. If that is the only way for you to verify the amount of your win, you can safeguard yourself from a
dishonest clerk by signing the back of your ticket as soon you buy it and certainly BEFORE you hand it in to be checked. This actually applies to all lottery tickets, both Lottery and number games… as well as to scratchers. Signing your ticket is the number one easiest safeguard!
Q. What can I do if I feel I am being duped?
A. Most lotteries police themselves. If a player has a complaint about a lottery retailer or clerk, they should contact the lottery directly. Go to the lottery website, and search for their contact information.
JUST FOR FUN:
There are some interesting statistics on the likelihood of you hitting it big winning the lottery. Did you know… you are about 200 times more likely to be struck by lightning than to win one of those huge lottery jackpots?
– The odds of being struck by lightning are 750,000 to 1.
– The odds of winning Powerball are 146,000,000 to 1.
– The odds of winning Mega Millions are 175,000,000 to 1!
Sources: The North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries (NASPL), Multi-State Lottery Association (MUSL).
If you're like me and most of America, you take at least one vitamin supplement a day. Chances are you're doing the right thing. But there's something you need to know. Our latest Hansen Files investigation shows there is a gaping hole in the safety net when it comes to making sure your supplements are safe and effective. Our hidden cameras will show that when it comes to supplements in America, it can be like the wild west. Here's some solid advice to protect yourself.
Q. Where can I find government warnings about unsafe supplements?
A. The FDA provides dietary supplement alerts and safety information and a list of supplements that are deemed tainted.
Dietary Supplement Alerts and Safety Information
List of Tainted Supplements
Sign up for automatic RSS alerts about contaminated supplements.
View several informational videos with warnings from the FDA.
Q. Are the vitamins and supplements I’m buying approved by the FDA?
A. Unlike prescription and over-the-counter medicines, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does NOT approve dietary supplements before they go on the market. However, the FDA has set forth regulations for the manufacture, packaging and labeling of dietary supplement products.
These FDA rules governing the production of dietary supplements and their ingredients are called Current Good Manufacturing Practice (CGMPs).
Q. So whose responsibility is it to ensure a dietary supplement is safe?
A. While the FDA has legal standards for producing supplements, under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), the manufacturer is ultimately responsible for ensuring that its dietary supplement products are safe before they are marketed. It is also their responsibility to make sure that any representations or claims made about them are substantiated by adequate evidence to show that they are not false or misleading. In this way, manufacturers can be held legally responsible for their products.
The FDA explains the government’s role on regulating dietary supplements in greater detail on their website, here: http://www.fda.gov/food/dietarysupplements/default.htm
And here: http://www.fda.gov/Food/DietarySupplements/ConsumerInformation/ucm191943.htm
Q. In general, what should I consider before taking dietary supplements?
A. Experts say it’s always a good idea to check with your doctor before you take supplements. Also keep in mind, under certain circumstances these products may be unnecessary for good health or may even create unexpected risks. Given the abundance and conflicting nature of information now available, you may need help to sort the reliable information from the questionable. The FDA offers the following tips and resources that may help you:
Q. What If can’t find the answers I need about a specific product?
A. You can contact the manufacturer for more information about the product. If you cannot tell whether it meets the same standards as those used in the research studies you read about, check with the manufacturer or distributor. Ask to speak to someone who can address your questions. Here are some questions suggested by the FDA:
Q. There are so many supplement brands out there. What should I look for to make sure I’m getting the most for my money and health?
A. Although the FDA doesn’t compare individual brands, they do provide some tips for consumers. Plus, there are also several private groups that perform independent test results and information to help consumers and healthcare professionals identify the best quality health and nutrition products.
Before you buy and take any new supplement, you may want to check out some of these sites: FDA: http://www.fda.gov/Food/DietarySupplements/ConsumerInformation/ucm110567.htm#moretips
Independent Private Group Sites:
ConsumerLab.com – http://www.consumerlab.com/
NSF International – http://www.nsf.org/business/dietary_supplements/index.asp
Consumer Reports – http://www.consumerreports.org/health/natural-health/dietary-supplements/overview/index.htm
In addition, the supplement industry has trade groups that represent its manufacturers and suppliers who provide information to help consumers make an informed decision.
Supplement Industry Sites: Council for Responsible Nutrition – http://www.crnusa.org/index.html
National Products Association – http://www.npainfo.org/
Consumer Healthcare Products Association – http://www.chpa-info.org/
American Herbal Products Association – http://www.ahpa.org/
American Botanical Council – http://abc.herbalgram.org/site/PageServer
Q. What should I do if I have a reaction to a dietary supplement?
A. First and foremost, consult a doctor about any unusual or lasting symptoms, whether or not you think it is related to taking a supplement. The FDA would like to know whenever the use of a dietary supplement causes you to have a serious reaction or illness, even if you’re not certain that the product was the cause, and/or you did not visit a doctor or clinic.
Call toll free: 1-800-FDA-1088 or submit a report online here: http://www.fda.gov/Safety/MedWatch/HowToReport/default.htm
Sources: U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Consumer Reports, ConsumerLab.com, LLC, NSF International, Council for Responsible Nutrition, National Products Association, Consumer Healthcare Products Association, American Herbal Products Association, American Botanical Council.