Former FTC Commissioner: Obamacare Website Violates Federal Regulations

Saturday, 16 Nov 2013 12:58 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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If the Obamacare website was a private business, it would be "taken to the shed and horsewhipped" for many Federal Trade Commission and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau violations, says former FTC Commissioner Orson Swindle.

The former commissioner, who headed the FTC from 1997 to 2005, told National Review Online, that the FTC requires that companies provide every possible bit of information upfront about a purchase, and HealthCare.gov doesn't do that.

"Businessmen would lose their businesses, salesmen would lose their licenses — that’s the kind of thing we are talking about here,” Swindle said. “The bottom line is that no private entity would be allowed to get away with what the Obama administration is trying to get away with.”

The site's often-documented woes, when added to President Barack Obama's promises that Americans can keep their health insurance would likely be considered deceptive advertising, a violation of the Federal Trade Commission Act that prohibits "unfair or deceptive acts or practice in or affecting commerce," the National Review reports. The act prohibits "representation, omission or practice that is likely to mislead the consumer,” that would lead customers to choose differently "but for the deception."

The site also withholds information from visitors about the actual prices of policies in the exchanges, not telling users how much the policies cost until accounts are created requiring personal and financial information.

A recent CBS News probe also showed the website "dramatically underestimates" the price of health plans.

For example, the site's categories divide users into the age categories 49 and under or 50 and older. The first age group's prices are averaged on what a 27 year old would pay, while the later group quotes prices for people much older than 50, giving prices an industry expert called "incredibly misleading for people that are trying to get a sense of what they’re paying.”

In addition, the website does not adequately protect sensitive information and has been attacked by hackers, as it had only completed a partial assessment  of the site's security features before it launched on Oct. 1.

The FTC Act prohibits endangering customers by failing to maintain site security, and takes enforcement action on companies that don't do so. Swindle said that such violations often bring referrals to the Department of Justice for criminal charges.
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