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Consumer Alert

Sometimes, all you can do is learn from your mistakes

Q. I got health insurance by joining the Alliance for Affordable Services in 2008 and paid for a membership each year. After speaking with the insurance company, I found out that I did not need to maintain the membership. Year after year, I paid my AAS membership dues — first $400 a year, then, later, it went up to $480. That was years of membership dues paid unnecessarily — $1,280! Do you think I should try to get the money back?

A. Normally, I love to help consumers get refunds. With apologies, I can’t this time, but hopefully, you’re learning a $1,280 lesson that will serve as a cautionary tale to others. Paying money you shouldn’t — without being pushed — isn’t really something you can make a case to fight.

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There doesn’t appear to be anything the Alliance for Affordable Services — a nonprofit that uses group buying power and lobbies on small business issues — did to cause you to continue the membership.

Howard W. Segal, secretary of the alliance, explained that the group is not an insurance seller, although it has relationships with insurance companies, and therefore doesn’t even know which of its members buy insurance. Segal said they would have informed you of the benefits your dues provided, if you asked. “We are always available to our members,” he said, “by telephone, mail, and on the Web for inquiries about benefits or questions about membership status or membership rights.”

Health insurance can be a challenge to get if you are self-employed, but at least in Massachusetts, there is a state-run marketplace (MaHealthConnector.org) where consumers can shop for plans from a variety of companies at a variety of prices.

Kranwinkel said she realized she shouldn’t have just continued paying, especially since she had some concerns about it. She does hope other consumers can benefit from her mistake. “I think the lesson for me here is, listen to your intuition,” she said.

Mitch Lipka has been helping consumers out of jams for the past two decades. He lives in Worcester and also writes the Consumer Alert blog on Boston.com. Mitch can be reached at ConsumerNews@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @mitchlipka.
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