Beware and other 'affordable insurance' sites

Beware affordable health insurance sites.About 50 million Americans -- one in six of us -- don't have health insurance, the census said last month. At the same time, health care fraud -- from useless discount cards to outright bogus insurance plans -- is a growing dark market. Where do a majority of Americans now turn to get health information? The Internet, of course, which we know is full of useless sites and even some harmful ones like this one that you should avoid.

This site ranks remarkably high in Google for search terms "find affordable health insurance." At first glance it seems like a relatively standard gateway to plan comparisons and possibly quotes from insurance companies. But the site is actually nothing of the sort. At best it's a lead generator, designed to steer your query to insurance sellers. But don't let those rotating logos on the home page of well-known companies fool you, as deep in its back pages the site disclaims any specific affiliations with insurance companies. At worst, this site will take your personally identifiable information and private health information -- both legal terms -- and sell them to whomever will pay.

Take a look at the find-a-quote feature. It starts out harmless enough, with some basic questions about your location and current insurance status. The next page gets a little more specific -- height, weight, are you a smoker? and a question about pre-existing health conditions. If you're not insured and you're looking to buy, there's a chance you might have one, so you're asked to check any box next to the following conditions: aneurysm, cancer, clinical depression, diabetes, drug/alcohol abuse, emphysema, heart disease, HIV/AIDS, hypertension, kidney disease, liver disease, multiple sclerosis, paralysis, stroke, and a fill-in for any other major illness.

And then: The next page asks for your first and last name, address, phone number and e-mail. The site requires you to check a box saying you have read its privacy policy and agree to its terms of use (though you don't actually have to read them, just check the box to say you have). For heaven's sake, stop there, before you inadvertently agree to one of the worst privacy "policies" imaginable:
"By submitting personal information to us, you grant us the right to use your personal information, including but not limited to, the right to sell your information to third parties. Personal Information could include the following: address, telephone number, e-mail, insurance amount, contact name, etc. ...You hereby agree that the information you provide does not constitute private health information as is generally understood in the industry. If you voluntarily choose to provide us with personal information, we will use it for any purpose, including but not limited to, the following:

* To share with our partners for the purpose of sending you information about a product or service in which you have expressed interest or in which we believe you will be interested
* To send communications that you have requested from MedHealthInsurance and its third party subsidiaries
* To receive information about partnering with us as an affiliate, insurance agent, etc.
* To improve or customize the content and/or layout of our web pages
* To contact you when necessary
* To send you related information which we think you might be interested in
By submitting your personal information to us, you are providing us with your written and signed consent to receive telemarketing calls. You agree that MedHealthInsurance has obtained your consent to receive a prerecorded message sales call in a manner permitted by the Electronic Signatures In Global and National Commerce Act (E-SIGN Act). By agreeing to these terms, you hereby consent to disclosure of any record or communication to any third party where MedHealthInsurance, in its sole discretion, determines the disclosure to be appropriate. (bold emphasis added).
This is not a privacy "policy" at all, and would be laughable if the circumstances weren't so serious. Two glaring lies: First, your personally identifiable information and private health information (legal terms, remember, as we talked about earlier) are yours, and they're between you and your doctor. Rest assured there are definitions of private health information "understood in the industry," and in many cases that information is protected by law.

Second, MedHealthInsurance can't invoke the E-SIGN Act to peddle off your private information to robo-callers in the course of asking for an insurance quote. Ironically, the E-SIGN Act was intended to help curb fraud during information exchange between consumers and, say, banks -- which is why you get pressed by financial companies for consent to let them e-mail you your bank statement so they can save money on postage.

MedHealthInsurance is blind-registered to an anonymous proxy service, always a bad sign. The quote site is disconnected from a larger information site found here 1368 Highway 208 . It's next to impossible to find a physical location. One page lists the address, 1368 Highway 208 Yerington NV 89447 US, but that's in the middle of a Nevada cornfield, according to Google Maps. At the bottom of the terms and conditions page is this address: 60 29th Street #110, San Francisco, CA 94110. That's a UPS mail drop. And MedHealthInsurance shares that same mail drop with these sites: (probably not a money generator, as the domain's owner lists it for sale at $1,000). (and similar sites for Arkansas, Arizona, Pennsylvania and Michigan).

With a couple of exceptions, these are blind-registered to private proxy services, naturally. One site mentioned ownership by SF Insurance Properties, though a search for a business by that name turned up nothing. But just because these sites share the same mail drop doesn't mean they are all run by the same people, right? It's no coincidence: They share a similar look and feel, their privacy 'policies' are similar, and each said its policy was updated either April 26 or 29, 2010.

So are these just 'parked' pages, cluttering up the Internet as part of someone's pay-per-click scheme? After I entered false information into MedHealthInsurance, it redirected me to a legitimate insurance site (more on that soon). There's a Brighthub reference to MedHealthInsurance here as a legitimate source of information, but that still doesn't explain why it ranks so high in Google.

Think about this: Would you tell an anonymous web site -- that, surrounded by some legal gobbledygook, says it will do whatever it wants with your private health information -- your name, your address, phone number and e-mail address, and that you were HIV-positive?
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