Thursday, July 31, 2008

Continuing Education: An Ethical Conundrum

In addition to selling and writing about insurance, I'm also a licensed Continuing Education instructor for Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana. These states require (as do, to the best of my knowledge, all states) licensed insurance agents to have a certain amount of updated knowledge of our industry and the laws and agencies which regulate it. The number of hours vary, but they are not insubstantial.
Other industries have similar requirements: lawyers have CLE, accountants must take CPE courses, and physicians have CME classes.
Costs for these courses vary, depending on industry and subject matter. But it can get expensive: I recently complained about the $100 charge for an 8 hour long term care course I was required to take. That is, until I asked my better half (a certified Project Management Professional) how much her courses cost, and was told that $30 an hour was a "good deal." And my surgeon brother-in-law told me that CME can run $100 (or more) an hour.
But that's only if you pay for it.
Many industries allow (encourage?) vendors to sponsor CE classes, at no charge to the actual licensee (doctor, lawyer, agent, whatever). So one might have BMW pay for lawyers' CLE classes, or Anthem pay for insurance agents' (this is more ubiquitous than you might have thought).
Or Pfizer paying for doctors' CME courses.
Apparently, that last is too much for the nanny-statists at the American Medical Association. I received an email (not sure why) that "actions are in motion by the American Medical Association’s Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs (CEJA) and proponents to eliminate commercial support of certified CME."
The Council's concern is that there's an inherent conflict of interest when a vendor pays for CME for a physician. I'm not sure I buy that, unless the vendor is also the instructor. The email went on to inform me that "the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (which accredits providers of CME) found ‘no evidence to support or refute the assertion that support biases CME’." Granted, that's lukewarm, at best. Far more telling were the results of a recent poll claiming that "92% of physicians disagreed with the Committee’s call to end commercial support of CME." Of course, these doc's have a vested interest: free CME beats $100 an hour CME every time.
So what's this got to do with insurance?
Well, as I mentioned above, I teach CE myself, and we're paid (directly and indirectly) by carriers to do so. That is to say, the agents who take our classes don't pay anything, our fees are picked up by carriers. And as regular readers know, I don't carry any insurance company's water. So how does that work?
Well, it's pretty simple: a carrier wants to present itself in a positive light to its customers (agents), and so it offers "free CE." It's not really "free," of course: the company pays us so that the agent doesn't have to. And the company chooses the topic (from a rather extensive "catalog" of courses). We're the licensed providers, and we write and develop and file - and teach - the courses. The carrier's involvement stops at the classroom door, and then picks back up when we present our bill.
So where's the conflict of interest?
And why would that be any different for doctors, or lawyers, or accountants?
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