Stories that portray someone being “wronged” always get people worked up. Make it a bully taking advantage of the weak and people really get emotionally involved.
Such could have been the case with a March 26 article by Charles Duhigg in the New York Times, titled, “Aged, Frail and Denied Care by Their Insurers.”
The article leads by telling the story of a well-intentioned widow who “scrimped together” about $100 a month from her grocery fund for a long term care insurance policy that promised to pay eventually for a room in an assisted living home.
The company doesn’t pay her claim, and based on this example an entire industry is branded as being full of heartless, money-grubbing executives who do not honor their own policies.
The article accuses some long-term care insurers of developing procedures “that make it difficult – if not impossible – for policyholders to get paid.” Ouch. Readers intuitively recalculate their opinions about long-term care insurance, and the job of selling LTCI just got harder.
The article gives a black eye to a pair of companies in particular, but the punch took aim at the industry in general. How do you defend an entire industry against media attacks? What can be done to mitigate the damage a mainstream article like this does to consumer perception of LTCI providers?
Not to worry, says Jesse Slome, executive director of the American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance.
“Sensational headlines instigated by the headline hungry are a reminder that not everyone understands or accepts how long-term care insurance works or the value of the benefits it provides,” Slome said when asked about the article. “Fortunately, the number of positive articles extolling the virtues of owning long term care insurance within the past 12 months exceed any negative press by one-hundred-fold, and the number of very satisfied claimants and families exceed the number who may be dissatisfied by an even greater ratio.”
Slome says the real story is that the product is working for tens of thousands of consumers that have benefited from LTCI, and tens of thousands more will also benefit in the years to come.
“This is really a golden opportunity for the industry and producers to demonstrate to those who may doubt that indeed a private solution is a far better for their clients and their families than another government bureaucracy that will depend on more taxes for less benefits and options,” Slome said. “I still predict policy sales this year will increase compared to last year and indeed that’s what we are hearing from our members nationwide.”
The lesson here? Bad press isn’t as damaging as you might think. When it first hits, it hurts, and you don’t know how long the pain will last. But black eyes heal, the sun will rise again tomorrow, and LTCI sales will grow.