As skimpy health plans with limited coverage become more available, people shopping for insurance are at risk of buying a plan that doesn’t meet their needs — because it can be hard to tell the difference.

That’s what happened to Stephanie Sena, an adjunct Villanova University professor whose story was published in The Inquirer on Monday. She isn’t eligible for coverage through the university because her position is part-time, so she turned to the internet for health insurance. She found out the plan she bought wasn’t real insurance when she was hospitalized with sepsis and needed an amputation — and the plan refused to pay a dime.

Some readers were quick to criticize the 39-year-old Philadelphia resident, saying she should have read the plan more closely, done her research, and understood what she was buying before signing up. But a small survey by consumer advocates for the National Association of Insurance Commissioners suggests that Sena’s experience is not unusual.

Interviewers spent an hour going over a short-term health-plan pamphlet with nine individuals of varying income, education, and insurance levels. They found that people often had difficulty identifying how the short-term plan was different from an Affordable Care Act-compliant plan, which is required to cover preexisting conditions, pregnancy, preventive care, and other basics. Participants also had difficulty identifying how the short-term plan would pay for services and whether it would meet their health needs.