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How A Company Misappropriated Native American Culture To Sell Health Insurance



Jill Goodridge was shopping for affordable health insurance when a friend told her about O’NA HealthCare, a low-cost alternative to commercial insurance.

The self-described “health care cooperative” promised a shield against catastrophic claims. Its name suggested an affiliation with a Native American tribe — a theme that carried through on its website, where a feather floats from section to section.

The company promises 24/7 telemedicine and holistic dental care on its website. It says it provides more nontraditional options than “any other health care plan,” including coverage for essential oils, energy medicine and naturopathic care. All of that and conventional care, too.

It struck Goodridge as innovative. She signed up for a high-deductible plan, paying more than $9,000 in premiums and fees over 13 months, she said. Yet she could not get O’NA to cover her family’s medical bills. For example, O’NA applied only a small portion of more than $6,000 in hospital-related bills against her $10,000 deductible.

“It almost seemed like we were just spending the premium money every month for really not much,” said Goodridge, whose family runs a Rockland, Maine, restaurant that is temporarily shuttered because of the coronavirus pandemic.

A year-long investigation by the state insurance agency prompted by her complaint concluded she was right, uncovering a business scheme operating in the gray areas of insurance regulation and tribal law to appeal to patients looking to save money on health care.

Hers is a cautionary tale for anyone looking for cut-rate coverage at a time when the cost of commercial insurance is rising and a wide range of alternatives are on offer.

Tempting low premiums may mean skimpy coverage with huge out-of-pocket expenses.

“Health insurance is getting so expensive people are looking for other options,” Maine insurance Superintendent Eric A. Cioppa said. “We tell everybody that if you do business over the internet to call us first and make sure it’s licensed.”

O’NA stood out, with a polished website featuring its story of holistic health and sun-dappled photographs. The sales pitch: “We’re here to guide you to a new way for your mind, body, and soul.”

Goodridge felt led astray.

The company claimed Native American ties that would exempt it from state insurance regulations because of tribal sovereignty, which gives federally recognized tribes the authority to self-govern outside of state or federal law. O’NA claimed it did not have to adhere to federal insurance requirements, such as guaranteeing standard coverage or maintaining a designated level of funds in reserve to pay claims.

O’NA HealthCare appears to be the first insurer to claim that Native American status exempted it from oversight, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.

The company advertised it was “comfortably nestled under a Native American tribal corporate umbrella” and “protected by the many rights and privileges that Native American Indians enjoy today.”

It sent its customers a “tribal membership ID & benefits card.” And it said it derived its status from an affiliation with the United Cherokee Nation-Aniyvwiya. That tribe is not one of the three federally recognized Cherokee tribes.

But the troubles with O’NA went deeper than that, Cioppa and his team discovered during a year-long investigation. Along with serious doubts that anyone involved with O’NA had valid indigenous roots, there were financial irregularities, allegations of embezzlement and phony professional credentials.

“The more we found out,” Cioppa said, “the more we wanted to keep digging.”

Jill Goodridge took a chance on a nonprofit “health care cooperative” sold online by a Native American company called O’NA HealthCare. After paying more than $9,000 in premiums and fees over 13 months, Goodridge says, she could not get O’NA to cover her family’s medical bills. (Shelby Knowles for KHN)

For Patients, A Tempting Offer With Red Flags

There was much about Goodridge’s new coverage that seemed unorthodox to the investigators.

She paid a tribal membership fee of $165, which the company said was a tax-deductible contribution to an unspecified Native American tribe. In addition to traditional medicine, O’NA said, its members could seek care at “Native American Tribal Healing Centers” nationwide, though it did not identify the centers or their locations. Goodridge also paid a family premium of $751 a month for 13 months before canceling, according to her testimony before the Maine Bureau of Insurance.

Stranger still, investigators found that O’NA required physicians to pay $485 a year to join its network. Her doctor declined.

On top of that, Goodridge testified, the plan did not pay out when needed, including much of that $6,000-plus hospital bill.

It turned out, that was not uncommon for a company that describes its services as “low cost, high value.” According to a state inspection of O’NA’s unaudited books in fall 2019, the plan spent an “unusually low” amount of the $2.5 million it collected in premiums to cover customers’ medical bills — just 13% or less. Under federal law, most insurers spend 80% or more on benefits for subscribers.

“However low its prices may be, the value it delivers is even lower,” Cioppa wrote in his December order.

Cioppa told KHN that state investigators could not determine the full scope of the operation, partly because O’NA, which boasted an “open provider network across all 50 states,” refused to tell them how many members it had signed up nationwide. It covered only 27 people in Maine.

O’NA’s bookkeeping also turned out to be suspect. Maine investigators observed that in 2019 O’NA paid few medical bills and didn’t keep enough cash on hand to handle even a couple of catastrophic illness claims, a violation of state insurance regulations.

Ultimately, Cioppa ruled that O’NA had illegally operated an insurance company, falsely advertised its benefits and failed to set aside adequate reserves to pay claims.

O’NA’s CEO, L.J. Fay, said the company is working hard to overcome past mistakes, noting: “We plan to make everything right. That is the ultimate goal.”

But in the meantime, Cioppa has prohibited O’NA from selling policies in the state.

The People Behind O’NA

Over the years, Benjamin Zvenia has presented himself at various times as a doctor, a lawyer and a tribal judge. O’NA was described by the United Cherokee Nation-Aniyvwiya as Zvenia’s “brainchild,” according to the Maine insurance bureau order.

He has a paper trail of criminal and civil infractions dating to the early 1990s, government records show.

In a sworn statement filed in Maine, Zvenia said he was a member and “administrative tribal judge” of the Nottoway Tribal Community Meherrin Band of North Carolina. That tribe is not among the 573 recognized by the federal government.

Zvenia also told Maine officials he served on the board of directors of Tribal Active Management Services, O’NA HealthCare’s parent company, but had not been paid for his “voluntary” services and had no responsibility for day-to-day operations. In a sworn statement, Zvenia denied playing a major role in O’NA. He did not respond to repeated requests for comment for this story.

Zvenia, in fact, has a criminal conviction in Nevada for practicing medicine without a license, which prohibits him from overseeing an insurance company, according to Maine officials. He was sentenced to six years in prison, court records show.

In his statement, Zvenia wrote, “There was a crime, and I did the time. My previous history may be public information, but it is not part of my accomplishments today.”

Zvenia’s legal work also has drawn scrutiny. In March 1999, the Nevada Supreme Court removed him from a list of non-attorney arbitrators, citing his undisclosed criminal conviction. A State Bar of Nevada investigation found Zvenia had applied to practice in immigration court, claiming to hold a law license issued by the Supreme Court of the Federated States of Micronesia. But the state bar checked with Micronesia, and it could not verify his claims.

Zvenia also told a state bar investigator that he graduated from the Kensington College “School of Law” in California. The college said Zvenia had applied in June 1994 but “never completed enrollment,” according to an exhibit filed with the Nevada Supreme Court order.

Jill Goodridge took a chance on a nonprofit “health care cooperative” sold online by a Native American company called O’NA HealthCare. After paying more than $9,000 in premiums and fees over 13 months, Goodridge says, she could not get O’NA to cover her family’s medical bills. (Shelby Knowles for KHN)

Jill Goodridge, whose family runs a restaurant in Rockland, Maine, joined a nonprofit “health care cooperative” that promised to cover traditional medical services and holistic therapies through its ties to Indian tribes. “They seemed to be innovative in the idea that you could see holistic doctors or naturopaths,” Goodridge testified during a Maine Bureau of Insurance hearing on Sept. 3, 2019. (Shelby Knowles for KHN)

A founder of O’NA HealthCare was Alan Boyer, a Utah musician who said he was a member of the Cherokee Nation. He was born in West Yorkshire, England, and emigrated to the U.S. in 1998, when he was nearly 40 years old.

Boyer was a founder of a British-style brass band in Utah but also dabbled in the holistic healing arts and naturopathic products before his death in December 2018 from cancer at age 59. In one promotional video for O’NA, Boyer, who spoke with a pronounced British accent, said the word O’NA means “new beginnings.”

“One of Alan’s greatest achievements in his later years was acceptance as a sovereign member of the great Cherokee Nation,” reads an online obituary entered into the record in the Maine proceeding.

Maine regulators had their doubts: “It does not appear from the record that any Native Americans have been involved at any time in the establishment, management or operation of O’NA,” reads the state order.

Lisa Hughes, the former CEO of O’NA and a resident of the Salt Lake City area, also raised Maine regulators’ eyebrows. Investigators found Hughes’ online résumé shows more than a decade of experience in rocket engineering and consulting work in Utah. She recently told Maine officials she had been hired at O’NA because of her prior experience in “systems development and cashflow analysis.”

In an affidavit and other legal filings filed in January, Hughes asserted she worked for O’NA for several years “with no or very reduced salary” before the company suspended her in July 2019 amid a corporate power struggle. The next month, O’NA sent her a letter from a law firm accusing her of embezzling $295,000, filings in the Maine investigation show.

In her affidavit, Hughes said O’NA concocted the embezzlement accusations “for purposes of smearing me and making me the scapegoat for O’NA’s legal formation and structure.”

Lessons Learned ― Or Not

In his December order, Cioppa gave the insurer until Jan. 21 to create a $100,000 fund to satisfy any outstanding medical claims. O’NA failed to do so, and now state officials are seeking a $450,000 penalty, though they aren’t optimistic about collecting it.

Today, O’NA has promised to reinvent itself as a “different type of insurance company,” according to CEO Fay. She said in an affidavit that it is anticipating a capital infusion of as much as $120 million and has $500,000 in reserves in a money market account in a Salt Lake City bank. She also indicated the company would file for a license to legally operate in Maine. So far, that has not happened.

Zvenia is still active online, offering professional and consulting services through Zvenia and Associates in Las Vegas, which says on its website that it is a “law firm guided by Benjamin Zvenia, Dr PH, JD.” The site posts a disclaimer: “All Nevada State legal matters are referred out; our lawyers & advocates are not licensed to practice Nevada State law.”

O’NA presents a new wrinkle in an ongoing conflict: The states regulate insurance but the internet allows for nationwide sales, leaving consumers basically on their own.

Goodridge, the Maine consumer who sparked the investigation, said in an interview that she holds little hope of getting any money back. But she has kept other Mainers from the same troubles.

Though O’NA health plans are still available in many states, its website notes that coverage is “not available in Maine.”


By: Fred Schulte, Kaiser Health News
Title: How A Company Misappropriated Native American Culture To Sell Health Insurance
Sourced From:
Published Date: Wed, 20 May 2020 09:00:01 +0000

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Retirement Planning

Ends-of-the-World Every Year Since 1970



There always has been and always will be a reason not to invest or not to stay invested. This is all the mainstream media reports to us. Below you will find a list of some of the worst global events each year since 1970. I have some commentary to follow.

1970: War: US troops invade Cambodia.
1971: Civil Unrest: Anti-war militants march on Washington.
1972: Political: Start of Watergate Scandal.
1973: Economic: OPEC raises oil prices in response to US involvement abroad.
1974: Political: Nixon resigns as President of the United States.
1975: Political: Multiple assassination attempts on President Ford.
1976: World: Ebola virus.
1977: Political: Government shutdowns.
1978: Market: U.S. Dollar plunges to record low against many European currencies.
1979: World: Iranian militants seize the U.S. embassy in Teheran and hold hostages.
1980: Economic: Inflation spiked to a high of 14.76%.
1981: Political: President Reagan assassination attempt.
1982: Economic: Recession continues in the U.S. with nationwide unemployment of 10.8%.
1983: Economic: Unemployment in the U.S. reaches 12 million.
1984: Economic: 70 U.S. banks fail during the year.
1985: World: Multiple airplane hijackings around the world.
1986: World: Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station explodes.
1987: Market: DOW drops by 22.6% on October 22.
1988: Environment: Awareness of global warming and the greenhouse effect grows.
1989: Environment: Exxon Valdez dumps 11 million gallons of crude oil into Prince William Sound.
1990: World: Persian Gulf War starts.
1991: World: Mass shooting in Killeen, TX.
1992: Human Rights: Los Angeles riots following the death of Rodney King.
1993: Terrorism: World Trade Center bombing.
1994: World: Mass genocide in Rwanda.
1995: Terrorism: Oklahoma City bombing.
1996: Terrorism: Olympic Park bombing.
1997: World: Bird flu.
1998: World: Multiple U.S. embassy bombings.
1999: World: Columbine shooting.
2000: Economic: Start of the Dotcom Market Crash.
2001: Terrorism: Terrorist Attacks in NYC, DC & PA.
2002: Economic: Nasdaq bottomed after a 76.81% drop.
2003: World: The U.S. invades Iraq.
2004: World: The U.S. launches an attack on Falluja.
2005: World: Hurricane Katrina
2006: World: Bird flu.
2007: Economic: Start of the Great Recession.
2008: Economic: Great Recession continues.
2009: Economic: S&P bottomed after a 56.8% drop.
2010: Market: Flash crash.
2011: Market: Occupy Wall Street and S&P downgrades U.S. Debt.
2012: Political: Fiscal cliff.
2013: Political: Taper tantrum.
2014: World: Ebola virus.
2015: World: Multiple mass shootings.
2016: Political: Divided U.S. Presidential election.
2017: World: North Korea testing nuclear weapons.
2018: Economic: U.S. & China trade war.
2019: Economic: Student loan debt reaches an all-time high of $1.4 trillion.
2020: World: COVID-19.

While many of these events were undoubtedly terrible (and there are certainly others not named here that were worse), most of these were broadcast as end-of-the-world events for the stock market. Despite that attention, it is worth noting that these were, for the most part, one-time events. In other words, most faded into the newspapers of history. We moved on.

Obviously, some caused monumental shifts in the way the world works. Just think about how much air travel continues to be impacted by the events of 9/11. But, outside of the resulting inconveniences (if we want to call safety protocols inconveniences) associated with air travel, flying is safer than ever before.

Take a look at just about any of the events and you will find there are many that people will hardly remember. My point here isn’t that these events are to be ignored or that they were easy to stomach at the time, but that they have become a distant memory.

I want to also make the point that we should expect these types of negative events. As investors, we know these types of crises, economic catastrophes, and global phenomena are going to happen.

But in almost all cases, here is what we can say in the next breath – this too shall pass.

Will there be legal, humanitarian, economic, or some other aid required as a result of these events? Almost certainly the answer is yes, but that doesn’t mean it they won’t eventually fade into history.

Lastly, what’s worth noting is how the market has performed over these last 50 years despite the continual advertisements of the world crashing down around us. On January 2, 1970, the Dow Jones stood at 809 and the S&P at 90 -> those are not typos. These same indexes have grown (not including dividends) to 26,387 and 3,232 respectively. Amazing, no?

Perhaps what gets overlooked more than anything else is what separates the above one-time negative events from the positive stories that go largely ignored over our lifetimes. And that is a story worth telling. See the companion post below:

Unheralded Positive Events Every Year Since 1970

Stay the Course,

Retirement Field Guide Mission:

“To help 10 million people make better retirement decisions.”

If you would like to join us in achieving our mission, I hope you will consider sharing our site if you have found it helpful in your own retirement planning.

This post is not advice. Please see additional disclaimers.

The post Ends-of-the-World Every Year Since 1970 appeared first on Retirement Field Guide.


By: Ashby Daniels, CFP®
Title: Ends-of-the-World Every Year Since 1970
Sourced From:
Published Date: Tue, 04 Aug 2020 13:26:19 +0000

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Retirement Planning

Wildfire prone property insurance bill in California due for hearing



The post Wildfire prone property insurance bill in California due for hearing appeared first on Live Insurance News.

The bill is expected to be heard in upcoming weeks as opposing sites prepare for major battle.

A new California bill, the outcomes of which will have a lot to say about coverage for wildfire prone property in the state, will soon be headed for hearing. The hearing is expected to be a heated one as strong opposing opinions have the opportunity to be voiced.

Opponents of this bill are calling it a direct attack on consumer protections in insurance.

That said, proponents of the bill claim it is the best method for making coverage available to wildfire prone property in California. The bill in question is Assembly Bill 2167. It was written by Assemblyperson Tom Daly (D-Anaheim). If it passes,it will create the Insurance Market Action Plan (IMAP) program. The IMAP program is meant to protect residential properties.

So far, AB 2167 has progressed quickly, when taking into consideration that a chunk of the legislature has been considerably restricted by pandemic crisis precautions. It was first presented in early June and backers have been saying that it was brought forward in good timing and that it has all the momentum it needs to be passed.

That said, AB 2167 has not been without opposition. In fact, it has faced considerable opposition, having been called an attack on Proposition 103, insurance consumer protection law. California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara lobbed that argument at it, calling it an “insurance industry wish list, with nothing to help consumers,” and Consumer Watchdog, whose founder, Harvey Rosenfeld, was the original author of Proposition 103.

The insurance industry strongly supports the bill, saying it will help wildfire prone property coverage.

Insurance organizations such as the American Property Casualty Insurance Association and the Personal Insurance Federation both support AB 2167. The bill also has the support of the California Association of Counties (CSAC), as well as Fire Safe Councils of California, and the CalFIRE union.

The Consumer Federation of America, another watchdog organization, has predicted that if AB 2167 passes, it will cause 40 percent increases in insurance rates. On the other hand, insurance groups claim that the bill offers owners of wildfire prone property a greater opportunity for choice and competition among insurance companies based on coverage and premiums while avoiding the limitations and high costs associated with FAIR Plan coverage.

The post Wildfire prone property insurance bill in California due for hearing appeared first on Live Insurance News.


By: Marc
Title: Wildfire prone property insurance bill in California due for hearing
Sourced From:
Published Date: Fri, 14 Aug 2020 09:00:14 +0000

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Is this the last hurrah for bonds?



Recently, I have written quite a bit about the long-term return expectations for investing in bonds. See here, here, here and here.

Spoiler alert: I don’t think it’s good.

But long-term bonds this year have been quite an amazing story as the COVID pandemic has caused the Fed to take historically monumental actions. As a result, we’ve watched long-term Treasuries tear the roof off the market. For instance, a 20+ Year Treasury Bond ETF (name withheld for compliance purposes) is up more than 31% YTD as of July 31st.

That is insane!

But there is a good reason for this increase shown below.

The red circle shows a decrease in the 30-year Treasury rate of almost 40% over a span of six months. That’s practically unprecedented with only two periods (2008 and 1981-1982) having similar declines over such short periods.

But this begs the question: Is this the last hurrah for bonds as a driver of any meaningful return? Below is the 30-Year Treasury rate over the last 40+ years.

For what it’s worth, people have been forecasting the end of the bond bull market since 2012 (maybe even earlier) and yet it has continued despite those predictions. But at some point, the bond party will come to an end.

The Fed has been clear that they are going to keep rates stable until at least 2022 which means this may not change for a little while longer. Or in the near term, I could even see the high returns continuing if we experience pandemic economic shutdown round two.

But, I can’t see a world where this is the case for much longer than that – most importantly over the span of a 30-year retirement.

The official end of the bond bull market depends on a recovery from the pandemic economy as well as a few other factors causing rates to rise. But when they do, it seems likely to me that this may be the last great hurrah for bonds for quite some time.

The question is when to get off that train and that undoubtedly requires a personal answer.

Stay the Course,

Retirement Field Guide Mission:

“To help 10 million people make better retirement decisions.”

If you would like to join us in achieving our mission, I hope you will consider sharing our site if you have found it helpful in your own retirement planning.

This post is not advice. Please see additional disclaimers.

The post Is this the last hurrah for bonds? appeared first on Retirement Field Guide.


By: Ashby Daniels, CFP®
Title: Is this the last hurrah for bonds?
Sourced From:
Published Date: Wed, 12 Aug 2020 13:47:16 +0000

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