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Life Health > Health Insurance

Back From Vacation

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When you go on vacation for a couple of weeks to a place where there is no television and where you get out of the habit of reading the New York Times every day, and where the joys and tribulations of the insurance business don’t intrude upon your consciousness (as difficult as that is to believe), it’s funny how so much seems to have happened in between the time you left the office and the time you return to hundreds of emails, voice messages and faxes that have just been waiting to get some eye time and ear time with you.

I’m always amused when people think the insurance business is some sleepy enclave where next to nothing happens for weeks on end–the equivalent of a one-intersection town where the biggest news is somebody seeing Uncle Ned bringing a wagonload of hay to market.

But we know better, don’t we?

The fact is that something is always happening (or one might more aptly say, erupting) in life and health insurance.

A lot of this activity, of course, has to do with what is going on in Congress, since insurance is of vital importance to consumers and various segments of the business are the equivalent of pet projects (or peeves) of certain congressmen.

Health insurance, in particular, seems to attract congressmen like honey does flies. Fixing the system’s perceived flaws has long been the passion of Sen. Ted Kennedy and Rep. Pete Stark, for instance.

So, while I was away, momentum and debate on expanding the State Children’s Health Insurance Plan started to build up a nice head of steam in the Senate.

There’s also renewed activity on a mental health parity bill. And let’s not forget Medicare Advantage programs, which are continuing to take a shellacking, especially from Rep. Stark, who introduced the Medicare Advantage Truth in Advertising Act to prevent the plans from charging seniors and those with disabilities more than they would be charged under traditional fee-for-service Medicare.

But Congress is not the only entity in D.C. that wants to get in the act of overseeing insurance. The Securities and Exchange Commission likes to have its say, and the NASD has boldly encroached on insurance (and annuity) turf.

Whew! That’s a lot of excitement.

But look at what I missed by not getting the Times while I was away! On July 8th, the newspaper published an article, which as our own Warren Hersch reported last week, “explored purportedly abusive sales practices in the marketing of annuities to seniors and the proliferation of less than rigorous educational programs for insurance and financial advisors.”

Once again a Times article has caused a huge amount of debate and hand-wringing in the business (not to mention the vituperation in some quarters that always seems to follow a controversial article in the newspaper).

I don’t think I need to remind readers about the May 7th article in the Times which reported on hard-sell tactics of agents who allegedly were pushing Medicare Advantage plans on seniors, or even worse.

Nor will many need to be reminded about the March 26th front-page article that went into agonizing detail about how some long term care insurers were denying legitimate claims or putting policyholders through hoops with inordinate delays.

Now, some people will say that all these articles and the troubles they stir up only prove the Times belongs in a spittoon full of tobacco juice.

I, on the contrary, would say that if you’re in the business you ignore the Times at your own peril. Even if you’re not reading it, millions of other people are. The news, unlike editors, doesn’t take vacations.


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