It's no news to insurance producers that their reputation, and that of the industry they represent, historically occupies the dark, dank basement of American business. Like it or not, you're down there with used car salesmen and hawkers of spurious kitchenware devices on late-night television. We have decades of public-opinion polls to prove it.
As if that wasn't enough, along came Eliot Spitzer, who bared a long-standing breach of trust by a handful of the nation's top brokers and further decimated the reputations of the vast majority of lesser and honest brokers. Some brokers, notably the big three, allegedly violated their Hippocratic oath to shop the markets in the best interest of their clients to secure the best coverage for the best price, terms and conditions.
Instead, they acted in their self-interest, steering business to companies that paid the highest "kickback" premiums. Worse yet, the brokers crossed the line from questionable ethical practice into downright criminal activity by rigging the bidding process and asking other insurers to overbid on business in exchange for future favors.
The Spitzer probe sank the sad reputation of the insurance business even deeper in the mud and left in its wake countless innocent casualties, the vast majority of honest agents, brokers and other industry practitioners tarred with the same brush as the relatively few bad actors.
Now comes this: Wall Street Journal, Nov. 30, 2005. Headline: "Health Insurers Show Employees Graphic Surgery Videos."
According to the Journal report, consumers are now offerred "live action surgery videos" to "educate" them, to "discourage" them from undergoing "unnecessary" procedures, thereby saving money for all concerned.
The videos are graphic, in the extreme. The Journal cites the diabetic foot-ulcer surgery, for example, "in which forceps peel away dead tissue as blood drops down the foot." Then there's the "skin cancer footage in which a scalpel cuts into the fine, wrinkled skin on the hand of an elderly woman." And then there's the cataract film, "which shows a needle piercing an eye."
What marketing genius thought this would be a swell idea?
It's just the latest of innumerable examples of companies acting stupidly and making life difficult for agents and brokers and other industry players. Certainly, no one disputes the soaring costs of health care and the need for careful risk management in this regard. But shock videos?
The only heartening news here is that most big insurers have stayed away from showing the tape. One wonders how long they'll resist.
The absurd suggestion is that Captain Ahab should abandon the hunt for the Great White Whale and settle into a safe position behind a department-store jewelry counter to avoid an occurrence of skin cancer. Diabetics and others seem to be held to the same standard.
Physicians, too, have mixed feelings about the videos. Says one: "There's a shock value to this, and just the shock value is going to scare some people away." What's really scary, revolting, disgusting and outrageous here is the videos themselves. The only such movie we care to see is one in which the industry surgically and graphically removes those bullets it's hell-bent on pumping into its collective foot all too often.
C'mon, guys. There's got to be a better way. And it's high time you found it.
TOM SLATTERY, a veteran editor and writer on industry affairs for 40 years, is also the managing director of Slattery-Esterkamp Communications, Baldwin, N.Y.
February 1, 2006
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