Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Our little-known run-in with the late Mr. Linkletter..

TV funnyman Art Linkletter has died at 97, which brings to mind our little-known regulatory run-in with the broadcast legend nearly 40 years ago.

In 1972, Linkletter was a pitchman for mail order health insurance. Even for the times, the policies were very limited, paying $15-$30 a day for a hospital visit, for example. And there were waiting periods.

Insurance commissioners in more than a dozen states, including ours, were unhappy with the use of celebrity endorsers for such coverage. Linkletter, for example, advertised coverage with National Home Assurance Co.

The state insurance commissioner at the time, Spokane attorney Karl Herrmann, ordered the ads halted in Washington, on the grounds that Linkletter wasn't an insurance agent. The company was allowed to resume the ads after changes, such as disclosing the fact that Linkletter was on the company's board of directors and spelling out the benefits by the day, rather than the month. The ads -- with Linkletter as spokesman -- resumed.

Where to find information -- and file claims -- re: the American Trade Association

The officials in charge of the liquidation of the American Trade Association, Inc. and several affiliates have set up a website that includes claim forms for unpaid medical bills, http://www.americantradeliquidation.com/.

We are aware of dozens and perhaps hundreds of Washingtonians who purchased purported health insurance products from a Tennessee-based company known as the American Trade Association.

We and a number of other states ordered the company to stop selling these illegal products. (Here's our cease-and-desist order, issued in January.)

On May 10, a Tennessee court ordered the liquidation of ATA and several connected entities: American Trade Association LLC, Smart Data Solutions LLC and Serve America Assurance. From the website:

"All policies of insurance or other benefits not previously expired, terminated or replaced by you with other insurance will end at 11:59 P.M. Central Time on May 31, 2010," it says. You can call the liquidator at 1-800-591-6764 for an update and to obtain a "creditable coverage letter," which can be a very important step in finding other coverage that's affordable, particularly if you have pre-existing medical conditions.

There are several key points in the website and recording:
  • Leslie A. Newman, the Tennessee Commissioner of Commerce and Insurance, is developing a liquidation plan for court approval.
  • No claims will be paid until the court approves a payment plan, which Tennessee officials say could take a year.
  • The deadline for filing claims is Aug. 31 at 4:30 p.m. Central Time. And the claims must be received -- not postmarked -- by that date. Here's a copy of the claim form, including the address to send it to.
  • Although some ATA customers have been getting letters telling them that they're being switched to other coverage, neither Newman nor the court have approved any such transfer of coverage.