United States: State AGs In The News - May 22nd, 2014

Hot News

Blog Post: Checkups for the Healthcare System—AGs' Consumer Protection Role Under the Affordable Care Act

  • The American healthcare market is in the process of an unprecedented transformation, driven largely by the enactment in 2010 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act ("ACA", also sometimes called "Obamacare"). Now that the ACA has been implemented, and open enrollment is over, millions of people now have health insurance who previously did not. Health insurance has always been confusing and is likely to be even more confusing for consumers who have never been insured. AGs are recognizing that their duty as chief consumer advocates for their citizens gives them a key role in ensuring that the evolution of the healthcare market does not come at the expense of consumers.
  • AGs have already been engaged on the ACA. Some through constitutional challenges of the law and its implementation and some by supporting the law through an amicus brief in the Supreme Court. After the Supreme Court upheld the law in 2012, the states turned to the herculean tasks of implementation—i.e., setting up exchanges (or relying on the federal exchange), deciding whether to expand Medicaid, approving plans, and later dealing with roll-out problems—in which state insurance commissioners, exchange offices, governors, and legislatures assumed leading roles.
  • AGs are again coming to the forefront, this time in their capacity as consumer protection advocates for the millions of new consumers on health insurers' rolls. Signs of consumer issues related to increased access to healthcare are already starting to appear. Read our recent blog post to find out more about the evolving role of AGs in this area.

2014 Election

Arkansas Primary Election Results

  • In an open seat primary in Arkansas, Republicans Leslie Rutledge and David Sterling will participate in a runoff election on June 10 after neither candidate reached the majority needed to advance to November's general election, according to the Associated Press. Rutledge leads Sterling by a margin of 47% to 39%, with nearly all precincts reporting. A third candidate, Patricia Nation, received the remaining 14% of the vote. The winner will face Democrat Nate Steel, who ran unopposed, in November's general election. Incumbent Democrat Attorney General Dustin McDaniel was term limited.

Georgia Primary Election Results

  • In Georgia, incumbent Republican Attorney General Sam Olens and Democrat Greg Hecht received their respective party's nomination for November's General Election after both ran unopposed in the primary. AG Olens is widely expected to be reelected.

Idaho Primary Election Results

  • In Idaho, incumbent Attorney General Lawrence Wasden defeated C.T. "Chris" Troupis for the Republican nomination by a margin of 59% to 41%. AG Wasden, who will face Democrat Bruce Bistline in November's general election, is widely expected to be reelected as AG of Idaho.

We will continue to provide updates on AG-related elections. For breaking news, please follow us on Twitter @StateAGMonitor.

Antitrust

Massachusetts Attorney General Reaches Agreement in Principle on Approval of Proposed Merger

  • Massachusetts AG Martha Coakley has reached an agreement in principal with Partners HealthCare regarding Partners' proposed acquisition of South Shore Hospital and Hallmark Health Systems. Under the agreement, Partners agreed to allow payors to contract with its component providers separately for ten years, to limit price increases across its network, to place limits on expansions of its physician network and other hospital acquisitions, and to make changes in its contracting practices.
  • The agreement follows an investigation by AG Coakley and the U.S. Department of Justice into Partners' contracting practices and the proposed merger.
  • The AG said in a statement that the agreement must be finalized between the parties by June 16 and then approved by a court.

Campaign Finance

Vermont Attorney General Issues Formal Opinion on Whether Campaign Finance Contribution Limits Remain in Effect

  • In response to a question from the Vermont Secretary of State, Vermont AG Bill Sorrell issued a formal opinion that the state's campaign finance contribution limits remain in effect through the 2014 election cycle.
  • The limits are set by a state statute that was repealed and replaced by legislation referred to as Act 90. That act repealed the statute effective January 23, 2014, but its new campaign finance contribution limit provisions will not go into effect until January 1, 2015.
  • The current limits provide that:

    • No candidate for election to a state office shall accept contributions totaling more than $1,000 from a single source or more than $3,000 from a political action committee (PAC) for any election; and
    • No PAC or political party shall accept contributions totaling more than $2,000 from single source, PAC, or political party in any two-year general election cycle.
  • Act 90 generally raises these limits.

Consumer Protection

North Carolina Attorney General Sues Debt Settlement Company for Allegedly Improper Fees

  • North Carolina AG Roy Cooper has filed suit against Legal Helpers Debt Resolution, PLLC, and certain of its officers. The suit alleges violations of North Carolina's Debt Adjusting Act and Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act and seeks a preliminary and permanent injunction, customer refunds, civil penalties, and other relief.
  • The complaint alleges that the defendants improperly collected advance fees for debt settlement services, failed to help consumers reduce their debts, and failed to provide legal assistance as promised.
  • AG Cooper noted, "We pushed for a strong law in North Carolina that makes it illegal to collect money upfront for debt relief work and we'll keep enforcing the law against violators."

Ohio and Washington Attorneys General Each Settle With Change of Address Service for Allegedly Deceptive Business Practices

  • Ohio AG Mike DeWine and Washington AG Bob Ferguson each settled with Change-My-Address.com, Change-of-Address.us, parent company Form Giant LLC, and its president (collectively Change-My-Address.com) to resolve allegations that they used deceptive business practices to convince consumers to pay more for change of address services than the consumer intended to pay and that they denied refunds when consumers complained.
  • Change-My-Address.com allegedly led consumers to believe that they were using the U.S. Postal Service's address change service, which costs $1, when they were using Change-My-Address.com services that cost $19.95 or $29.95. The AGs alleged that the disclosure of the price of the services was obscured and that when consumers complained, Change-My-Address.com refused to provide refunds.
  • Under both the Ohio settlement and the Washington settlement, Change-My-Address.com must pay $3 million in restitution into a nationwide settlement fund for consumers, disclose all service charges, disclose that they are not affiliated with the U.S. Postal Service, and pay attorney costs and fees.

Energy

Michigan Attorney General Investigates Propane Supplier's Pricing and Business Practices

  • Attorney General Bill Schuette of Michigan announced that he has requested additional civil subpoenas from the Marquette County Circuit Court in his ongoing investigation of last winter's unusually high propane prices. The AG seeks information from AmeriGas, a supplier of residential propane services, relevant to consumer complaints alleging excessive prices and alleged misrepresentations that may have violated the Michigan Consumer Protection Act.
  • AG Schuette previously subpoenaed another propane supplier, Ferrellgas, Inc., regarding similar consumer allegations. The investigation of that supplier continues, according to the AG.

For-Profit Colleges

Iowa Attorney General Settles Consumer Fraud Claims Against For-Profit Online College for $7.25 Million

  • Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller announced a settlement in his investigation of Ashford University and its parent entity, Bridgepoint Education, Inc., involving alleged improper sales tactics, alleged misrepresentations to students, and alleged improper charging of certain nonrefundable fees.
  • Under the settlement, the companies will pay $7.25 million to the state and will avoid certain practices in their disclosures to potential and current students. AG Miller anticipates that the payment will be used primarily to reimburse current and former Ashford students from Iowa and to administer the reimbursement program.
  • The companies expressly denied wrongdoing and liability.

Mortgages and Foreclosures

Washington Attorney General Obtains TRO Against Foreclosure Trustee

  • The King County Superior Court has issued a temporary restraining order against a foreclosure trustee, Cal-Western, in Washington AG Bob Ferguson's suit against the company. The TRO imposes a moratorium on foreclosures by Cal-Western through May 29, 2014, and requires Cal-Western to stop certain allegedly unfair business practices.
  • The AG's suit alleges that Cal-Western failed to provide an accurate phone number to borrowers. According to AG Ferguson, that failure made it difficult or impossible for some consumers to contact the company to discuss their mortgage and foreclosure proceedings. The AG asserts that Cal-Western's conduct violated the Deed of Trust Act and the Consumer Protection Act.
  • As we reported in a previous blog post, AG Ferguson recently entered into a consent decree with another foreclosure trustee, Quality Loan Service.

States v. Federal Government

Massachusetts Attorney General Advises Federal Agency to Permit Buybacks of Homes by Non-Profits

  • Massachusetts AG Martha Coakley submitted a letter to the new director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency encouraging the agency to direct Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to permit non-profit entities to buy homes from lending banks at market value and finance their resale to former homeowners.
  • According to the Attorney General, the agency's refusal to change its policy against such buybacks violates Massachusetts's Act to Prevent Unnecessary and Unreasonable Foreclosures. The Massachusetts law prohibits creditors from conditioning a sale to a legitimate buyback program on the program agreeing not to resell or rent the property to the former owner.
  • AG Coakley noted in the letter that the state is considering "all available legal avenues, including litigation" to enforce Massachusetts's law.
  • AG Coakley's letter also continued to advocate for principal reduction programs. The AG noted that a net present value analysis that determines an appropriate principal reduction may be used with other tools to create sustainable loan modifications.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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