An Open Letter to Bill Brann of "Obamacare Alternatives" (UPDATED)
On May 25, 2014 you emailed me with the following request:
I am an insurance agent and in the communities I serve...south texas...San Antonio, Austin, we saw limited demand...so these numbers amaze me...can I advertise on your site...and reference you on my site?
I took a look at your website, and I'm a little confused. According to your site, the healthcare policies you offer are "not Obamacare compliant". There's technically no such thing as "Obamacare"...the actual name of the law is "The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act", generally shortened as "the Affordable Care Act." While "Obamacare is a popular nickname for the law, it's a bit troubling to see a supposedly professional insurance agency using slang terminology throughout the website.
While I'm not an expert on the law, aside from existing non-ACA compliant healthcare policies (which have been "grandfathered in" for an extra year or two in some states), it's my understanding that all new healthcare policies sold on the individual market are required to be fully ACA-compliant. If I'm mistaken about this, I apologize in advance, but I have to ask: Are the policies that you're selling even legal under the ACA?
Furthermore, your "Our Letter to You" page states:
...According to many publications, including Newsmax, "Obamacare will bankrupt America". According to Bloomeberg, under Obamacare, healthcare costs are expected to reach nearly 5 Trillion dollars by 2021. Is that the legacy we want to leave our children?
...Democrats and Republicans alike are fighting the Obamacare implementation.
...Can we win against Obamacare? Absolutely. For starters, we can NOT enroll in Obamacare.
Your company is openly and actively opposed (hostile, actually) towards the Affordable Care Act. While I certainly have my share of issues with the law (clearly stated on my FAQ page), overall I feel that it's an improvement over the previous health insurance situation, and I'm personally a progressive Democrat.
As an aside, the entire site, supposedly for a professional insurance agency, is riddled with misspellings and grammatical errors, and your official company blog has exactly 2 entries (the first of which was posted less than a month ago), neither of which contains any actual content.
What on earth made you think that I'd have any interest in promoting your services (or in being associated with them on your own site)?
PS I realize that posting this letter on my own site only serves to, ironically, give you the very promotional boost which you're seeking from me (without you having to pay for it, to boot). Perhaps this was your intent in the first place. However, your request was too surreal for me to resist.
UPDATE: Mr. Brann replied with an extensive listing of all of the flaws of the ACA and all of the benefits of his company's services. However, he never came right out and answered my question, whether his services are legal alternatives to ACA-compliant policies. The closest he came to addressing this question was the following:
Understand our product can be purchased as a companion to ACA plans, not necessarily as an substitute.
Ah. Got it. So these are not legal alternatives to ACA-compliant policies; they're "value added" plans of some sort. If so, that's fine...except that the website itself is called "Obamacare Alternatives", and is filled with statements stating that their services have "advantages over Obamacare plans." Anyone visiting the site would logically conclude that they offer a legal alternative to an ACA-compliant plan, not an add-on service.
Needless to say, I've respectfully declined his offer.
UPDATE x2: OK, Mr. Brann has explained himself further. He insists that his policies are indeed legal. His defense of them is as follows:
Consumers are aware that penalties existing for non-enrollment and we make that clear. But what is a penalty? Do you know what a stock option is? Isn't it a cheaper way to hedge on a financial product? Consumers who refuse to enroll will still be able to go on ACA in November..no harm no foul...with a small price paid in the form of a penalty without having to "buy the cow". At which point they can keep our benefits and enroll in ACA KEEPING BOTH.
I actually checked every page on his website. Nowhere does it "make it clear" that there are penalties for "non-enrollment" (in fact, there's no mention of "fees" or "penalties" for not having legal healthcare coverage anywhere on the site). As for the rest of it, my take is that he's basically saying that all people have to do is pay the financial penalty while also buying his product and they'll still come out ahead. I doubt that this is true, but even if it is, that's still not even close to what he's pitching his wares as. This may not meet the legal definition of fraudulant advertising, but it sure as hell strikes me as shady.
As for why he thought that I'd be interested in working with him (emphasis mine):
I think you're a pretty intelligent guy and I like your work. When I check out your info...you do a great job of presenting data in an unbiased format. I think it was you who were quoted recently in a conservative site as being in dismay at the administration refusing to release membership information, effective immediately. Is that still the case? Are the expecting a drop in enrollment?
Compliments aside, he answered the question pretty clearly.
UPDATE x3: Don't be surprised if Mr. Brann slaps some sort of reference to the fee/penalty for not having compliant coverage over the next day or so; he sent a final response which included the following:
I'm going to take your advice and include a section on penalties, and we will put on the front page a statement about that. That's good advice.
On the one hand, I do appreciate him doing so. On the other hand, he had just finished claiming that they already "make it clear" that there's a penalty for not having compliant coverage, so I'm not exactly impressed by this promise.
In any event, based on the comments below (and which I've read elsewhere), I'm starting to get the gist of what he's selling. It's basically the healthcare equivalent of those quasi-legal "payday loans" which in this case charge "low" rates but give out even lower benefits. Basically, a shorter version of the same sorts of "junk" policies which the ACA tried to get rid of in the first place, except that these are apparently limited to the "off-season".
As for the "quoted in a conservative site" bit, it sounds to me like he probably never even heard of me or this site up until my HHS rant was quoted by a couple of right-wing outlets last week. Sounds like I can expect to be contacted by a few more right-wingers who think I'm "one of them" in the near future.
On the other hand, it's actually been somewhat educational, so in a weird sort of way I kind of thank him for contacting me, and he's been oddly filled with praise for me and the site even when I flat-out accused him of dishonesty. Interesting.