Minnesota Commerce Department fines California company $50,000

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Last November, Jesica Conrad received a letter in the mail addressed to her father, who had died more than 10 years ago.

The letter opens, "Certain Medicare plans in your area are being discontinued in 2019. A review of records suggests you may be impacted."

Conrad said she was immediately suspicious.

"Why would I be getting mail for my dad, if he's dead?" she said. "Wouldn't [Medicare] know that?"

A retired nurse who lives in Bemidji, Minn., Conrad also saw that the letter contained a web address of Medicare.com. She knows the federal government uses .gov in web addresses.

Conrad reported the letter to the Minnesota Department of Commerce.

It turns out the letters were not sent by the federal government. They were sent by a California-based insurer. Last month, the Commerce Department fined that company, eHealthInsurance Services, Inc., $50,000 for mailing "misleading correspondence" to Medicare recipients in Minnesota.

Commerce Commissioner Steve Kelley said the company sent 600,000 letters which included a number for recipients to call.

"This was all an effort to sell insurance to the recipient of the letter," said Kelley. "They were trying to suggest to people that in order for them to continue their Medicare coverage that they needed to call this number."

Kelley said it's not clear if Minnesotans bought insurance from the company.

Lisa Zamosky, senior director of corporate communications for eHealthInsurance Services, Inc., said in a statement that "while we disagree with [the Commerce Department's] position, we're happy to make changes to satisfy its concerns."

Conrad said she's glad the state agency was able to hold the company accountable.

"It was dishonest. It was unethical. It was amoral that they could just blanket Minnesota with these letters on the off-chance they were going to generate a whole lot of revenue for their company," she said.