WASHINGTON – Beware of scam artists taking advantage of the new health insurance law to peddle phony policies, President Barack Obama’s top health official warned consumers Tuesday.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius issued the fraud alert as she also announced new benefits for seniors and low-income people.

If the yearlong congressional saga that produced the sweeping insurance remake was murky and confusing, Sebelius vowed that her process for putting the law into effect will be the opposite — understandable to a typical consumer.

“As soon as we know something, we’re going to tell you,” she promised Tuesday.

She’ll have plenty of time to convince the legislation’s many skeptics, with four years until its major expansion of coverage. In the meantime, expect a steady stream of updates on the nearly $1 trillion, 10-year law that will eventually provide coverage to almost all Americans. Modest benefits kick in quickly.

Speaking at the National Press Club on Tuesday, Sebelius sought to head off a potential consumer problem.

After Obama signed the bill into law March 23, there has been a proliferation of scams involving bogus health insurance policies.

Some of the hustlers are going door to door claiming there’s a limited open-enrollment period to buy health insurance. Not so.

Moreover, even after new health insurance marketplaces open for business in 2014, door-to-door salespeople are unlikely to be part of the outreach. Scam artists have also set up toll-free phone lines.

Sebelius, a former Kansas governor and insurance commissioner, wrote state officials Tuesday to urge that they investigate and prosecute such scams to the fullest. Federal health-care fraud investigators are also on the lookout.

“Unfortunately, scam artists and criminals may be using the passage of these historic reforms as an opportunity to confuse and defraud the public,” Sebelius wrote state insurance commissioners and attorneys general.

The new health care law will ultimately provide coverage to more than 30 million uninsured Americans, but those changes will come slowly, beginning with smaller steps.

As early as this summer, people who have been turned down for coverage because of a medical problem will be able to buy a plan through a new high-risk health insurance pool.

Many states already operate such pools, but the coverage is expensive, and only about 200,000 people are signed up. The new health care law provides an infusion of federal dollars to bring down costs and cover more people.

In the fall, two other consumer benefits take effect. Insurance plans will no longer be able to deny coverage to children with medical problems, and parents will be able to keep their adult children on their policies until they turn 26.


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