The Income Umbrella (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

My friend Ed is the same guy I wrote about in an “On the Third Hand” blog entry yesterday.

I’ve changed so many details about Ed that his own mother would have a hard time figuring out who he is. If he read this blog and I didn’t tell him that this was him, he wouldn’t know it was him. Except that the gossip is real gossip.

Anyhow: Ed is a nice, hard-working human resources/benefits guy who has many different HR guy professional designations. He has a new job managing human resources and benefits for a company with about 300 employees, including about 285 in two highly cantankerous, eccentric U.S. states — New York and New Jersey — and 15 in Winnipeg.

He’s responsible for enrolling people in group and voluntary disability insurance programs, and he himself collected short-term disability (STD) and supplemental health benefits when he had temporary but expensive health problems a few years back. 

His advice to people trying to persuade his company to offer their disability insurance products and other non-major-medical health-related products:

  • Helping him understand the bizarre differences between various state and Canadian provincial benefits regulatory systems is good. 
  • Administering whatever products smoothly and fairly is good.
  • Being strict about following a product’s genuine, well-disclosed rules is fine.
  • Bouncing employees around without a good, obvious reasons is bad.
  • Being greedy about voluntary sales is very, very bad.

Ed likes the big company that provides his current employer’s group disability plans fine. The company is strict about enforcing its coverage rules, and the 17-page form it makes would-be claimants fill out is overwhelming for plan members who are facing serious health problems, he says.

But, on the other hand, the people at the company seem nice, and they seem to do their best to do what they’ve said they’d do.

When Ed himself filed the claims with his group disability insurer and a voluntary benefits provider for the temporary health problem a few years back, he had to fill out a lot of annoying paperwork for both companies, but  he eventually collected tens of thousands of dollars in much-needed, much-appreciated paperwork. Struggling with the paperwork paid off.

Now, the voluntary benefits provider has reps calling him every week or so, like a voluntary-benefits-providing cukoo clock.

In theory, you’d think Ed would be the perfect HR gatekeeper for that provider. He’s actually collected benefits from the provider, and his new company is staffed with young, healthy, well-educated, well-paid employees who can afford to buy any benefits they want to buy and mostly love their jobs.

In reality: No.

When Ed let the company offer benefits at his old worksite, the enrollers were too effective. They scared the young, healthy, generally poorly paid employees so badly that some agreed to spend more than a quarter of their take-home pay on voluntary benefits.

Ed ended up having to spend time unselling enough of the products to get the employees to the point that they’d have enough disposable income to pay their current bills.

Then, when one of the well-sold employees did file a claim, the voluntary benefits provider bounced him around like a pingpong ball without giving any explanations that sounded good to Ed.

In the long run, that company might have maximized current sales; in the long run, it seems to have maximized Ed’s interest in doing business with another insurer.