Bogus Health Connector website shut down
State official calls site ‘woefully deceptive’
The Baker administration has shut down a shadowy commercial website masquerading as the official Massachusetts Health Connector and referring customers to health insurers while collecting a fee in the process.
The real Connector is a state clearinghouse for health and dental insurance plans, helping individuals, families, and small businesses secure health and dental coverage. About 208,000 people buy coverage through the Connector, most of them receiving some sort of financial assistance through federal tax credits or state subsidies. Only about 45,000 of the Connector’s customers purchase coverage without any financial assistance.
The Connector said the insurance plans it offers receive the state’s seal of approval. The state connector provides outreach through two website addresses, mahealthconnector.org and betterhealthconnector.com.
The bogus commercial website, formerly found at healthconnector.co, gave every impression that it was affiliated with the state of Massachusetts. At the top of the home page in large letters was “Mass Health Connector.” Farther down were references to the Massachusetts Health Connector and Health Connector.
It appears the bogus website was an attempt to siphon off customers headed for the real Connector and refer them to brokers. Customers who required financial assistance would still have had to go through the Connector, so it’s unclear how successful the referral business was. The Connector doesn’t pay referral fees, except to brokers who bring in small group clients.
The state first learned of the bogus website last summer, when the Division of Insurance received complaints from consumers. After consultations with Attorney General Maura Healey’s office, the Connector retained the law firm Mintz Levin Cohn Ferris & Glovsky to shut the website down. The firm is being paid $571.50 an hour.
Mintz Levin sent a cease-and-desist letter to healthconnector.co in October, accusing the company of attempting to “confuse consumers into believing that your insurance-related services are sponsored, affiliated, or endorsed by our client when, in fact, they are not.”
The letter noted that complaints have been received from consumers who had “mistakenly associated your services with our client.”
The website did not respond to the letter, so three months later, on Feb. 12, Mintz Levin wrote to GoDaddy, the company that registered the healthconnector.co domain name, asking that the site be immediately taken down or suspended. GoDaddy promptly suspended the website, and now Mintz Levin is taking additional steps to shut down the website permanently.Before the suspension, CommonWealth called the phone number listed on the website and, after some initial screening, was connected to an insurance broker named Simpson Financial Group in Boston. Simpson helps people and businesses find health coverage and in return receives a commission from the insurer. Officials at Simpson, which is also a certified broker for the Connector, said they pay money for referrals but couldn’t identify who was behind the bogus website.
Louis Gutierrez, the executive director of the Massachusetts Health Connector, said the agency would do everything in its power to shut the bogus website down. “We consider the website to be woefully deceptive,” he said.