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Massachusetts AG awards $500,000 to veterans’ mental health services

June 19, 2013

The Massachusetts Attorney General awarded $500,000 in grants in late May to help veterans and their families access mental health services. The funding comes from a June 2012 settlement with the Life Insurance Company of North America (LINA), which last July agreed to pay more than $1.7 million to the state for misrepresenting its health insurance as a veterans’ benefit. LINA had targeted World War II veterans in a marketing effort for its supplemental health insurance products, an effort that affected more than 1,000 consumers.

The AG found that LINA:

  • Misrepresented its insurance as a governmental veteran’s benefit
  • Illegally denied coverage based on preexisting conditions
  • Made false claims about its rates
  • Exaggerated benefits
  • Misrepresented coverage limits, and,
  • Deceptively billed Massachusetts residents.

 “Any company that seeks to exploit veterans for financial profit should know that this will not be tolerated in Massachusetts,” said Department of Veterans’ Services Secretary Coleman Nee. “I thank Attorney General Coakley and her staff for their continued vigilance on behalf of veterans to ensure they have access to the benefits they so rightfully deserve.”

LINA’s two supplemental polies – a cancer-only policy and a hospital policy offering outpatient surgical benefits – were marketed through direct mail and internet solicitations to veterans, said Coakley. For example, LINA sent Massachusetts veterans direct mail solicitations stating:

“DOUBLE CASH BENEFITS: When you need extra money the most during a battle with cancer or a stay in an ICU or cardiac care unit, Hospital PAY-TO-YOU kicks into high gear with DOUBLE cash benefits up to $100 a day…$700 a week for days 1-60.”But the indemnity coverage did not provide double benefits and did not cover outpatient radiation or chemotherapy for cancer.

Another marketing material said LINA’s cancer policy would give patients “THE BEST CHANCE OF SURVIVAL” if cancer is ever detected, but the materials did not say that if did not include cancer coverage detected within the first 60 days of coverage.

Last year’s consent judgment was followed by LINA’s termination of those plans in Massachuetts, as well as the $1.7 million in restitution to the state. $55,000 of that money was used to cover the costs of the AG’s investigation.

The grant awards announced May 23 go to five organizations:

  • Veterans’ Inc. will support veterans in need of mental health care, starting with initial outreach, identifying veterans in need of services, accompanying veterans to and from appointments, monitoring effectiveness of treatment, and following up on veterans’ mental health status for as long as needed to achieve stability.
  • Bedford VA Research & Education Corp (BRCI) will assist veterans returning from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan who have indications of stress and psychological problems yet may have difficulty approaching or accepting traditional mental health treatment. This innovative approach uses physical exercise as an intervention to reach veterans.
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) will train veterans for their peer-to-peer support program that provides emotional support to fellow veterans and encourages veterans to seek additional mental health services if needed.
  • Massachusetts Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children (MSPCC) will continue to provide military families and children experiencing individual and family difficulties as a result of medical, social, psychological, and financial challenges associated with the deployment of a family member.
  • Screenings for Mental Health Signs of Suicide (SOS) Program aims to decrease suicide attempts by increasing knowledge and adaptive attitudes about depression, and will encourage individual help-seeking and help-seeking on behalf of a friend.

With 20% of returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans reporting symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder or major depression, services for this population are key, according to the AG’s office and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

 “For many of our veterans, access to mental health services is as critical as physical health care,” Coakley said. “Many of our veterans are returning from multiple deployments. These programs will help break down barriers to mental health services that many of them need and all of them deserve.”

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