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Oct. 24, 2020

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Court orders insurance company to stop using web address, branding similar to the Washington health insurance marketplace

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A Seattle health insurance company was ordered by King County Superior Court to stop using a web address and branding resembling those used by the state’s health insurance marketplace.

The order against Health Insurance Team was sought by state Attorney General Bob Ferguson on the grounds that the use of a similar domain name and branding used by the Washington State Health Benefit Exchange amounted to deceptive advertising, which is prohibited under the Consumer Protection Act.

“In the midst of an ongoing public health crisis, Washingtonians deserve clear, accurate information about their health care options,” Ferguson said in a news release.

A person who answered the telephone at Health Insurance Team on Thursday afternoon declined to comment.

Washington’s Health Benefit Exchange was created after the Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010 to sell qualified individual plans in the state instead of relying on the federally run HealthCare.gov.

In October 2012, the exchange announced the online portal for purchasing health insurance through the exchange would be called Washington Healthplanfinder.

The attorney general’s complaint says that on the same day the Exchange announced Washington Healthplanfinder, Health Insurance Team registered 12 domain names with the phrase “healthplanfinder.” One of those 12 was washingtonhealthplanfinder.org.

The complaint says that Health Insurance Team hadn’t used a domain name similar to the state’s before and began using “deceptive domain names that it had registered, including washingtonhealthplanfinder,” in the months leading up to the Exchange’s first open enrollment period in 2013.

The company also used a toll-free telephone number one digit off from the Exchange’s number, used the Exchange’s logo on Twitter and had statements on its website such as, “We are your one stop resource to navigate you through all the changes taking place in the Washington Health Insurance Exchange.”

Health insurance customers need to be aware that there are websites that hue closely to Washington Healthplanfinder, said Michael Marchand, chief marketing officer of the Exchange.

“To avoid being taken advantage of, we encourage consumers to enroll in health coverage with certified individuals and visit the correct website address at wahealthplanfinder.org,” he said.

The court also ordered Health Insurance Team to pay the state Attorney General’s Office $50,000 that will go toward enforcing the Consumer Protection Act.

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