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Home Health Care Programs

Your May 3 story, “Fast-Growing Home Health Care Sector Is Magnet for Entrepreneurs,” paints a glowing picture of the home health care industry. I firmly support in-home health care as a more humane and less expensive alternative to hospitalization. However, as the regulator of these insurance products, I am aware of many consumers whose experiences with certain home-care providers have been far less rosy.

Unfortunately, I have had to crack down on many home-care salespeople who use high-pressure tactics to scare unwitting seniors into purchasing what are in fact worthless policies. Far too many senior citizens have been convinced to give up legitimate health care policies in favor of home-companion contracts that provide no health coverage whatsoever.

This month I issued orders to begin revocation proceedings for six licensed agents in Orange and Riverside counties who are charged with falsely marketing these glorified-maid contracts as long-term care policies. The agents convinced seniors that the home-care contracts were a low-cost alternative to policies that provide nursing and custodial care. These seniors paid up to $8,000 for a companion to visit them, cook their meals, help them bathe, clean their house and launder their clothes--but not care for their medical needs. They were also required to pay annual membership fees of between $400 and $600, plus daily co-payment for services on an hour-per-day basis. Simply put, these charges were outrageous.

As it turns out, one of the companies these agents represented, Simi Valley-based Retired Home Owner Assn. Inc., has also filed bankruptcy, leaving at least 600 elderly consumers entirely holding worthless contracts.

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Senior citizens shouldn’t throw away their money on private home visit programs without carefully researching them and the alternative programs that may already be available in their communities for a nominal fee. Free advice and assistance are available at 24 Health Insurance Counseling and Advocacy Project (HICAP) offices throughout California. Seniors can also contact their local area agency on aging, which may provide federally subsidized home-care programs.

Finally, those considering home-care contracts should call the Department of Insurance’s consumer hot line at (800) 927-HELP to find out more about the company, its track record and whether it is their best option for their health needs. If consumers suspect a fraud, they should report it immediately to the hot line, so that we may initiate our investigation.

JOHN GARAMENDI

Insurance Commissioner

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Sacramento


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