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Ask questions first and avoid regrets later

Posted by Mitch Lipka  January 15, 2013 03:55 PM

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Q. I got health insurance by joining the Alliance for Affordable Services in 2008 and paid for a membership each year for five years. 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 four years of membership dues paid unnecessarily -- $1,280! Do you think I should try to get the money back? Or just chalk it up to experience?

Sonia Kranwinkel, Danvers

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

There doesn’t appear to be anything the Alliance for Affordable Services – a non-profit association 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 ( where consumers can shop for plans from a variety of companies at a variety of prices.

With her membership now cancelled, 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.

Indeed. Pay attention to your gut and remember that consumers have no better advocates than themselves. Have a question? Ask it. Have a concern? Raise it. It beats paying and regretting.

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About the author

Mitch Lipka is one of America's leading consumer journalists and advocates. He is an expert in product safety, recalls, scams, and helping consumers get out of jams. He is a nationally known consumer columnist and runs He lives in Worcester. You can find him on Facebook or reach him at


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