Monday, May 15, 2006

Mixed feelings...

On the one hand, I represent the carriers whose products I sell. On the other hand, I work for my clients. As agents, we walk a thin line, balancing the interests of each of our “masters,” as well as our own.
Most of the time, this is relatively easy. The reason that lawsuits and claims disputes and the rest are news is because, for the most part, they are the exception. That is, most of the time the system works; maybe not perfectly, and perhaps not as smoothly as we’d prefer, but people are issued policies, claims do get paid, and life does go on.
And sometimes carriers do stupid things. I believe (naively, perhaps) that most agents don’t “push” particular carriers or plans just to win a trip or earn a bonus. Yes, those are nice, but they’re really just icing on the cake. Sometimes, carriers are pretty crass about these; for example, I’m getting fed up with annuity vendors offering 8, 9 or 10% commissions on their products, while paying the annuitant 3 or 4%. On the other hand, I don’t much care for the low, flat-fee commission structure that more and more health carriers are putting in place.
But my number one pet peeve is carriers that just can’t get enough PR. These companies spend tens (sometimes hundreds) of thousands of dollars to sponsor sporting (and other) events, inviting their top producers to participate. That’s money that could be spent on claims, and product development and, yes, commissions for us peons.
So what’s got my knickers in a bunch?
An organization called ProCare has been sued by Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina. ProCare is an independent organization that seems to have been a thorn in BX’s side for quite a while. I’ve actually blogged on them before, because I recognized a kindred spirit, especially as regards tilting at windmills.
According to ProCare, BX has sued them after they published “truthful but embarrassing information about the company's profligate spending at the U.S. Open golf tournament.” I’ll reserve judgment on the term “profligate,” but I have little doubt that much of what is spent on such activities is not necessarily in the interests of policyholders (or agents). As an ostensible non-profit, it seems to me that they are not easily defended.
The trial is set for, believe it or not, September 11 of this year. It’s possible, although unlikely, that it will be settled out of court. I characterize this possibility as “unlikely” because one of ProCare’s stated goals is to compel BX executive leadership (such as it is) to testify under oath regarding these expenditures. If nothing else, that would make interesting reading for those of us in the industry and, indeed, anyone who has insurance.
Since I can’t reproduce the email here (I’m apparently not the geek I thought I was), I’ve linked their site. I can’t in good conscience vouch for them; I have no connection with ProCare other than being on their distro list. But they seem to be on the level, if a bit zealous.
The truly sad part is that I know that BX is not necessarily the worst of the bunch. I wonder if this lawsuit will embolden others take on its competitors.
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