The Foundation’s president, Ankeny Minoux, said that about 67 percent of the people who call are eligible for public programs. The rest are undoubtedly searching for private coverage, and the Foundation seems to be a lead-generating operation for insurance agents. Its tool for helping employers and individuals seeking private coverage tells them to contact the help line for assistance in finding a broker. The matrix of public and private programs for New York, for example, refers people to the New York Association of Health Underwriters. The Web site also says that if callers don’t qualify for public programs, they are referred to brokers within the “Uninsured Help Line database.”

What kind of advice does the help line give? I called and asked for help getting a policy in New York. After disclosing that I take an eye medication, the customer service rep told me “New York doesn’t offer very much,” adding “Your state doesn’t offer anything for people with pre-existing conditions or high risk. Most insurance companies will deny you.” She missed the mark big time. New York is one of the few states that requires all carriers to offer a policy to everyone, regardless of their health status. That means that people with pre-existing conditions can always buy a policy, although there may be a waiting period before expenses associated with the condition are covered. The operator apparently hadn’t checked the Foundation’s matrix for New York, where the correct rules are explained.

There’s a cautionary tale here for all journalists swimming in the health care swamp. The words “nonprofit” as well as “nonpartisan” don’t always legitimize an organization whose officials are eager to be quoted. Too often, some groups that carry those labels are disguised marketing and public relations operations for their funders. It’s always best to check who’s funding the group, what their goals are, and disclose that information to audiences. That’s the step the Times left out.

Trudy Lieberman is a fellow at the Center for Advancing Health and a longtime contributing editor to the Columbia Journalism Review. She is the lead writer for The Second Opinion, CJR’s healthcare desk, which is part of our United States Project on the coverage of politics and policy. Follow her on Twitter @Trudy_Lieberman.