GARDINER — Four companies must cease doing business in Maine and pay civil penalties totaling $260,000, in addition to restitution and interest, because of a fraudulent health insurance scheme, said Maine Insurance Superintendent Eric Cioppa.

United States Contractors Trust, the Real Benefits Association, Metropolitan Business Alliance LLC (also known as the National Association of Business Leadership) and Access Health Now violated Maine’s insurance laws and were ordered to stop doing business in the state and pay benefits that were due under existing policies.

The four companies “have engaged in a nationwide scheme of fraudulent activity, taking advantage of vulnerable consumers, including at least four Maine citizens, with false promises of affordable health coverage,” the Maine Bureau of Insurance said in a prepared statement.

In response to consumers’ complaints of unpaid medical bills, the Bureau of Insurance investigated and found that U.S. Contractors, Real Benefits and Metropolitan Business engaged in unlicensed insurance transactions, and Access Health Now assisted in the transactions.

“Unlicensed insurance activities must be reported and stopped,” Cioppa said. “Maine policyholders paid their premiums, but received little to no benefit in return. Anyone seeking to purchase insurance can always contact the bureau to make sure the company is licensed in Maine.”

Maine law prohibits anyone from acting as an insurance company or administrator without being authorized by the insurance superintendent.

U.S. Contractors also was found to be in violation of Maine’s unfair claims practices statute requiring an insurer to deal with policyholders’ claims in good faith.

“The four companies promised ‘affordable benefits … that address the needs of the consumer and enhance their quality of life.’ Instead, they took consumers’ money and left some of them with crushing medical expenses,” the Bureau of Insurance said.

The Real Benefits Association has been cited for fraudulent insurance practices in at least 10 other states. The company, which has locations in New York and New Jersey, could not be immediately reached for comment. The three other companies also could not be immediately reached for comment.

Staff Writer Jessica Hall can be contacted at 791-6316 or at: [email protected]