Cover Me

Kathern Cathey thought she had an insurance policy that would save her life. Not exactly.

It makes consumers feel like they're part of an important association, like they belong to something. But the truth is, they're on their own.

Cinergy Health's CEO is Daniel Touizer, a 36-year-old Florida resident and Canadian citizen who believes that the federal government has not processed his application for U.S. citizenship in a timely fashion. So he's currently embroiled in a lawsuit against former acting U.S. Attorney General Peter Keisler, former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and former Director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Emilio Gonzalez.

Touizer is no stranger to litigation. Between 2003, when he applied for citizenship, and 2008, when he filed the suit, Touizer failed to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in back taxes and was slapped with liens by the Internal Revenue Service. (A Cinergy spokesman says Touizer ultimately paid all his back taxes and is clear of any IRS liens.)

Cinergy's "member services" number doesn't appear to provide good service for its members.
Daniel Kramer
Cinergy's "member services" number doesn't appear to provide good service for its members.
While she waits to hear if she'll get the surgery she needs, Kathern Cathey relies on painkillers to make it through.
Daniel Kramer
While she waits to hear if she'll get the surgery she needs, Kathern Cathey relies on painkillers to make it through.

Touizer appears to have first showed his entrepreneurial flair when in 2001 he gave up his job as vice president of a company that distributed public Internet kiosks and decided to form his own company, American Terminal, that did the same thing.

American Terminal ran into a snag in 2002, when the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, assisting in a U.S. Federal Trade Commission sting of dozens of companies selling "business opportunities," fined Touizer's company $2,000. (No details were available regarding the nature of the fines.) Also, in disclosure paperwork American Terminal was required by law to provide potential investors, the "litigation history" section includes the following: "In August 2001, Daniel Touizer as managing member of American Terminal Corp, LLC, was assessed a $2,000 fine in an administrative action by the Florida Division of Consumer Services, for advertising prior to receiving approval.")

But those weren't the company's only problems: A New York company called Upstate Networks claimed to have patented the technology used in American Terminal's kiosks in 1996. The company notified Touizer of this alleged infringement in November 2001. Touizer didn't respond to it, and Upstate Networks filed suit. Touizer ignored the lawsuit as well.

Because Touizer did not mount any defense in the case, the judge found in favor of Upstate Networks and ordered American Terminal to pay $221,000.

But Touizer would soon move on to better things.

He created a company that would become Cinergy after a few name changes, which seem to have been predicated on the fact that, under its original name, the company allegedly failed to pay $108,000 to AT&T for phone services. Although the suit named Cinergy as well as HealthPlus Benefits — Cinergy's previous name — Touizer's lawyers responded by saying AT&T's contract was with HealthPlus, which was totally not Cinergy. The suit was ultimately settled out of court; when the Houston Press asked about the details of the agreement, Cinergy declined to comment.

Cinergy originally marketed discount medical plans and then added limited insurance coverage. However, the company now appears to act only as an insurance agent for limited insurance. Confident in this new brand, the company has issued a spate of press releases about its "dramatic growth" and hiring of a new medical director.

The releases contained contact information for Ronn Torossian, head of New York City-based 5W Public Relations. But when the Press called Torossian with some very basic questions about Cinergy, it led to a slew of legal threats and demands to "watch your words and actions very careful [sic]" and to let them review "said sources prior to publication."

Torossian ultimately brought in Cinergy's lawyers, who admonished the Press for failing to "confine" our questions to "subjects that are within scope of the legitimate and pertinent public discourse on health care in this country."

The Press's first affront to "public disclosure" came when we asked Torossian if Cinergy was an insurance agent or a provider of "medical discount" services. Torossian — who informed the Press that he's not the company's spokesman, he's only the guy reporters are supposed to call in order to arrange interviews — replied that Cinergy is a "health insurance solutions provider." To which we asked, "But is it insurance?"

Torossian then asked if he could address that question off the record. When the Press declined, based on the principle that asking a company what exactly it is they do is hardly grounds for Deep Throat-style confidentiality, Torossian became convinced this story would have a "political bent." (Apparently, Torossian comes from the school of public relations that believes instant evasiveness and legal threats are the best way to inform consumers and reporters about the specifics of your company's products.)

Torossian then reiterated that Cinergy provides health insurance solutions. Finally, he was able to secure a quote from a Cinergy executive who stated that Cinergy is a licensed insurance agent. Torossian then demanded that all subsequent correspondence be conducted solely via e-mail, a demand he disregarded only hours later when he called to talk more about "health care solutions."

We were surprised, since we figured Torossian would be happy to talk about the company he's been issuing press releases for, releases such as the one announcing the coup of landing Dr. Erika Schwartz as Cinergy's medical director.

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