Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Word Problems

No, not that kind of word problems. More like this kind:
When is a rate reduction not a rate reduction?
When it's tied to buying another product. As in this lovely little offer that I recently received from our UHC service rep: "My UW [ed: underwriter] has provided 3% rate relief, off your groups medical rates, if you add any of our ancillary lines...dental...vision...or life."
A few simple words, and I blew my stack.
Why is that, you ask? Let's rephrase this, and perhaps it will become more apparent:
"We're offering a one-time, multi-policy discount on your group health rates if you also purchase dental, vision or life coverage. In fact, this discount could pay for itself."
(NB: I had to add the "one-time" bit because they already offer an on-going "package" discount)
So why would one phrase give me the warm fuzzies, and a simple re-wording send me through the roof?
Call me old-school, but when a carrier rep says "underwriter" and "rate relief" in the same sentence, it implies a whole series of specific processes and decisions, the results of which should be completely independent of whether or not we buy an additional line of coverage.
In fact, wording it in such a way strikes me as just shy of extortion ("(t)aking money by force, threats or deception or by excessive overcharging"). After all, if we're healthy, why not just offer the lower rates? In fact, if the underwriter has determined that we qualify for lower rates, isn't the carrier obligated to just put them in place?
Why not?
But recasting this as a completely separate business decision (which, after speaking with the rep, I came to understand it to be) makes it an attractive offer, not a thinly veiled attempt at squeezing even more premium.
As they say, "words mean things." And sometimes, they mean things we don't intend.
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