Monday, December 30, 2019

Weird Insurance Tales #3,726

Over the years, we've posted about some very unique, even weird insurance policies. From love to virginity to moon-watching, I thought we'd pretty much covered it all.

Not so much:

"Ernest Digweed was a retired schoolteacher from Portsmouth. When he died in 1976, he left behind approximately $44,000, with instructions that the money should go to Jesus Christ, if Christ should return to Earth in the next 80 years."

Okay, Henry, that is unique, even weird, but what does it have to do with insurance?


"Digweed's relatives ... weren't happy at all with the will and sued to get the money. Eventually ... the courts [agreed] to give it to them, but with one condition. The family had to take out an insurance policy that would pay back the money, should the original benefactor (Jesus) make an appearance."

As one might expect, this was indeed a case for that most famous of insurance markets:

"A Lloyd's [of London] broker has arranged coverage through a private insurance firm ... One problem was identification: There had already been two unsuccessful claims."

Just the two?

[Hat Tip: Ace of Spades blog]

Friday, December 27, 2019

Disappointing Customer Service, then some Love(Pop)

I have been a longtime customer of LovePop, very imaginative and well-executed "pop-up" greeting cards. I've bought them for my wife for Mother's Day, and at various times throughout the year for significant holidays. They are (as my much missed sister used to say) "spendy," but I thought they were worth it.

So my most recent experience was disappointing (to say the least), though:

On December 18, I ordered a Chanukah-themed card. For the holidays, the site was offering free shipping which was attractive; unfortunately, it turned out that "free shipping" actually meant "very slow shipping." I waited and waited, and watched the delivery tracker slowly change. And I do mean slowly: it wasn't until the 23rd that I saw any actual movement. It's now the 27th, and the tracker says the card was delivered yesterday.

Unfortunately, even if true, it want to me, and it should haven't have taken over a week (even this time of year).

So I reached out to the LovePop folks to express my displeasure.

To my delight, I received a prompt reply:

"I'm so sorry to hear your card hasn't arrived yet! As you state, the tracking indicates that the card was delivered this morning, December 26th at 9:46 am. Because of how tracking works, occasionally packages are marked as delivered too early.

If you still haven't received the card with the mail tomorrow, please confirm the shipping address for me and I'd be happy to send a replacement Mennorah Lights card, a different card of your choice, or a full refund.

Thanks for reaching out, Henry. I'm so sorry again the card hasn't reached you

So I re-confirmed my address, and then sat back to see what would happen.

Soon, I received this:

"We've got your order

Thank you for placing your order with us - we know you're going to love it. We'll process your order and send you an update once it's shipped

Hunh. What's that about?

Ah, another email:

"Thanks for following up! I'm Rebeca​ and I'll be taking over. I read through your previous emails and I'm here to help.

I'm sending out a replacement ASAP through FedEx's expedited 2 business day shipping. Your new order number is #2352355 and you should receive an email update shortly.

I really apologize for the inconvenience because as you mentioned, it shouldn't have to take this long for you to receive your card. We always aim to provide our customers with the best experience possible and I really appreciate your patience

Now that's how it's done.

Kudos (and Thank You) LovePop! Enrollment: Week 6 (Final) Results

Even with the illegal extension, these numbers are abysmal:

[click to embigen]

Called it.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Life Lesson Update

Our recent post on Alcoa's latest life insurance kerfluffle left unanswered an important question. From the comments, posed by co-blogger Bob:

"I would think at least some of the cash settlement would be taxable. But perhaps not."

As promised, I reached out to longtime FoIB Joe Kristan, who kindly replied:

"Without knowing more, I don't see any reason why it wouldn't be taxable. It doesn't seem to fit in the rules for tax-free insurance settlements."

So potential double-whammy for the company's "valued" retirees.


Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Miracles and Blessings

Christmas is a time of miracles and blessings. But so is every other day of the year.

You see, miracles and blessings can happen any time. You just need to learn how to spot them.

Questions That Bother

Regardless of your religious affiliation, most everyone knows the story of the first Christmas. They may not know all the details, and some may have doubts about veracity of the story.

Some may disbelieve the virgin birth. Sadly, even some clerics openly state that followers are not required to accept everything in the Bible as factual.

Molding Religion in Our Image

Even those who have left the church in search of God still cling to many of the tenets of faith while rejecting the parts that make them . . . uncomfortable. It's almost like a child that eagerly comes to the family dinner and picks at their food. They eat the chicken and mashed potatoes but push the peas to the side.

"Seekers" as they are called are not necessarily unbelievers. They just want to create a new religion that allows them to live the way they want . . . without constraints.

Sanitized Christmas

The nativity scene in this post has been circulating on the web and social media for a while now. I don't know who created it, or why they chose to draw the picture this way.

Perhaps it was to create a non-offensive representation of the birth of Jesus. By drawing a picture "without color" neither Jews, nor Arabs nor anyone of color would be offended.

But without Jesus it is just a shelter for animals. Just a simple barn with no real meaning or significance.


The same can be said for those who want to change religion to fit THEIR style. Keep the "good". Discard the "bad".

Life doesn't work that way.

The saying goes, that "Man plans and God laughs".

So true.

No matter how much we plan for our future, life get's in the way.

God, or life, or Mother Nature, or the universe has a way of telling you that life does not always go the way YOU planned.

You can live your life in a God-centered manner.

Or you can live it me-centered.

Your choice.

True Belief

From a personal perspective, this year has taught me that, no matter how much I want to BELIEVE I am in control of my destiny, I am not. Stuff happens. Things that I never expected, or planned for.

Yet there it is. It happened. What comes next can be labeled as a coincidence . . . or a miracle. It is up to the individual to decide which one fits.

God had a way of reminding me that HE is in control. But at the same time, he also showed how miracles can happen right before your eyes. All you have to do is believe.

I DO believe in miracles. But I also know that sometimes I don't recognize them, until long after the event has passed.

Rachel and I faced some difficult times this year, but we also experienced miracles. Too often we missed the miracle until it had passed.

But that is the way life is.

We are so focused on what is happening at that moment that we miss the big picture.

The nativity scene is so focused on being non-offensive, that the true miracle is overlooked. The miracle of a baby that will become a man who forever changed history.

December 25th is a time for celebrating miracles and blessings.

But so are the other days of the year.

Peace and Blessings. Merry Christmas to all!

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

(Potentially) Exciting HSA News

Keep in mind that this has been proposed, it is far from law.

But it's a start:

"U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Mike Braun (R-Ind.) this week introduced the Personalized Care Act (PCA), legislation to make Americans' health care more portable, accessible, and tailored to meet their unique needs by dramatically expanding Heath Savings Accounts (HSA) - a pre-tax savings tool millions of Americans use to cover the costs of their health care."

Some highlights:

• Expand HSAs to Millions of Americans

This is perhaps the most important feature, since, as we've been proposing for years, it "decouples HSAs from high deductible health insurance plans (HDHP)." In fact it seems to go even further, and, as we've also long endorsed, it includes alternative mechanisms and policies like Sharing Ministries and Short Term Medical plans.

• Allow HSAs to Pay for Direct Primary Care and Other Direct Medical Care Arrangements

This is fantastic: by allowing folks to use HSA funds to pay for DPC, these plans should become even more popular, both with patients and as a model for doc's.

One disappointment is that it doesn't seem to contain any mechanism for re-legalizing true catastrophic plans. Still, it's a great step in the right direction.

Kudos, Senators!

[Hat Tip: FoIB Dr Lee Gross]

Friday, December 20, 2019

A Life Lesson

Well, a life insurance lesson.

I've recently been working on an outreach program to our agency's clients to remind them that we also do life insurance, and to educate them on why that's important. One of the most common responses has been that "I already have life insurance at work." What they mean, of course, is that their employer provides them coverage while they are employed there (although some may, in fact, also have coverage like AFLAC which they do own). That employer-provided plan is called 'group term life' and it almost always terminates when one's employment does.

But Henry, I've worked at XYZ Widgets for years, plan to retire from there, so why should I worry?

Well, friend, here's why (and Thanks to co-blogger Bob for the heads' up):

Is this right? Maybe, maybe not, but it's real, and I bet the folks that also bought their own coverage are sleeping a little easier right now.

More to the story?

Bob also sent along this update from a colleague:

"Yes we have an Alcoa plant near us. I had the first walk in with one of those policies in the cancellation paperwork and a check in his hand yesterday.

They can send the check back to Alcoa and fill out a form and have life insurance continue. But the only problem is they don’t tell them how much coverage to have or if they have to make any premium payments in addition to the check. When we called the phone number it was with the letter they acted like we didn’t need to know all the information they could just cash the check and put it in the bank or they could send it in and have some life insurance.

The man I was helping was almost 90 years old and not in great health so I feel very certain the G.I. option on the life insurance is what he needs to go with. But you can’t make decisions like that without knowing how much that check is going to buy.

That check was for $6000. If that gets him $10,000 of paid up coverage then it’s a no-brainer. But if it gets him $7500 of coverage plus he still needs to continue his monthly payment then I probably wouldn’t do it. It was way beyond the scope of what they could help us with getting that information. They said they can have an insurance agent calling within five business days. The man is 90 years old and he was overwhelmed with it and very frustrated. They should have people on those phone lines that can give you the basic information you need or better yet put it in the letter that you sent out to the retirees along with the check

This is unconscionable. So I reached out to Alcoa, and their Director of Communications, Jim Beck, offered this reply:

"While any action that affects our retirees is difficult, this decision is in alignment with our strategy to improve Alcoa for the long term, including through balance sheet improvements. As a voluntary action, however, we are offering affected retirees cash payments that can be used for any purpose, including finding alternative insurance. If a retiree does not cash the check, that will not change the planned termination of coverage on December 31, 2019. We took similar action with other retirees in 2018.”

Make of that what you will.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

What does it mean?

By now, readers have no doubt heard the news that the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has (also) found the (Evil) Mandate/Tax/Penalty unconstitutional:

"The 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals by a 2-1 vote concluded the original law’s key funding mechanism ... was properly eliminated by Congress and therefore the entire law could not be enforced."

That last is due to a little something called "severability," about which we last wrote a year-and-a-half ago:

"Severability simply means that if one part of a particular law is deemed unenforceable, the rest of it could still be fine. But its absence would mean that if one part is tossed, then the rest is, too."

The key is whether or not the law as written contains a clause explicitly stating that severability does not apply, which clause was glaringly omitted in the ACA itself. This ruling is the latest in the Saga of the 19 (states suing to eliminate ObamaCare altogether).

At issue now is how the Supreme Court (where all of this will eventually end up) will finally rule. I suspect that Chief Justice John "It's Not A Tax" Roberts will side (again) with the Democrat Associate Justices and scuttle this effort, leaving ObamaCare largely in place.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Mutual of Omaha LTCi Underwriting: Behind the Curtain

Over the past few months, we've been featuring videos from the folks at Mutual of Omaha, which in turn feature some of that carrier's senior Long Term Care insurance underwriters. They're an opportunity to peek "under the hood" at how carriers assess and price risk.

In this final installment, MoO's Director of Underwriting, Allen Gregoire, "discusses the effort his LTC underwriting team puts into quick turnarounds, and wonders how the future of insurance underwriting, especially concerning genetic testing and cognitive diagnoses like Alzheimer's and dementia."

We've touched on genetic testing before, and all I can say is that we'd better be aware of just how insidious its inclusion in the underwriting process would be.

Here's Allen:

Monday, December 16, 2019

You have GOT To Be Kidding Me

Because of course, let's just pretend there are no rules (because clearly there aren't: 

In an abundance of caution, to accommodate consumers who attempted to enroll in coverage during the final hours of Open Enrollment but who may have experienced issues, starting at 3:00PM EST today, December 16 we are extending the deadline to sign up for January 1 coverage until 3:00AM EST December 18."

Oh for crying out loud. This has nothing to do with "caution," and everything to do with number padding. Those final ACA sign-up tallies must look truly awful.


[Hat Tip: Health Agents for America]

Top of the Week Roundup

#1: Golden State heads' up:

We previously covered this at the beginning of this year, when California "enacted legislation that permanently establishes different enrollment dates within the state, both on and off-exchange."


#2: Across the Pond, the Much Vaunted National Health Service© continues swirling:

As we've long noted, this is a feature, not a bug.


#3: Finally, as we wait for final numbers from Open Enrollment v7.0, this interesting observation from FoIB (and actuary) Greg Fann:

Friday, December 13, 2019

Sharing is Caring - Or maybe not

Over the years, we've written pretty extensively about Health Care Sharing Ministries (HCSMs), both their advantages and their flaws.

On the one hand, they are ACA-compliant, which means that they technically check the Mandate/Tax/Penalty-avoidance box. And, they are typically far less expensive than comparable ObamaPlans.

On the other hand, they are underwritten, and they are not insurance, which means that there are few (if any) consumer protections available for folks who enroll (notice that we can't call them "insureds"). They often have religious restrictions, as well, which could be problematic for some.

Back in August, we noted that Washington State insurance regulators were taking a hard line against Aliera's HCSM arrangement:

"The top insurance regulator in Washington state is accusing a high-profile health care cost sharing ministry, and its program manager partner, of trying to avoid state insurance regulation by wrapping ordinary health insurance in a health care sharing ministry wrapper."

Fast forward to now, and co-blogger Bob tips us to this item from the Peach State:

"... health shares marketed by Georgia-based Aliera, the company through which Greer bought his plan, exemplify those risks, with the company under investigation or ordered to stop selling plans by regulators in at least four states."

I can sympathize with Alierra's clients: as anyone who's recently shopped at the site can attest, plans are increasingly expensive, both in premium and potential out-of-pocket, even with subsidies (tax credits). So it's easy to understand the allure of alternatives like health sharing, while overlooking the very real pitfalls.

I must say, I'm not sure how insurance regulators think they have the authority to ban an explicitly non-insurance product, but maybe that's just me.


Thursday, December 12, 2019

MVNHS© & Medicaid4All: A Study In Health "Care"

As we've long noted, when health care is a "right" bad things happen:

"Quebec’s health minister said Thursday he would sign a ministerial decree to block dentists from withdrawing from the public health system amid a bitter standoff over contract negotiations."

Here, of course, we have the 13th Amendment.

For now.

As we've also long noted, Britain's Much Vaunted National Health System© (which is based on that premise) continues to prove my conclusion true:

And that, dear readers, is what awaits us with #Medicaid4All.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Google vs Privacy

"I'm the Google whistleblower. The medical data of millions of Americans is at risk - Anonymous"



"I didn’t decide to blow the whistle on Google’s deal, known internally as the Nightingale Project, glibly. The decision came to me slowly, creeping on me through my day-to-day work as one of about 250 people in Google and Ascension working on the project."

The challenge, of course, is how we define privacy these days. As co-blogger Kelley recently pointed out about this very story:

"In America only one State (New Hampshire) stipulates in its laws that the patient owns information in the medical record. In all other States it either stipulates that the Provider (Hospital and/or Physician) owns the medical record or there is not such stipulation."

And when we use devices, we've given explicit permission about what the folks on the other end may do with it.

From 4 years ago:

"[I]f a person receives a wearable device through their hospital or doctor, the healthcare data that device collects is covered by HIPAA. At least, the data HIPAA defines as protected healthcare information (PHI) is safeguarded."

And we've seen how well that's worked out.

[Hat Tip: FoIB Shari G]

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Weird Tricks

Working with a new (to me) client on an Exchange plan, husband and wife, $28,000 annual income (2020). Very vanilla, no real issues. Plug in their demographics, hit the button, and see that they qualify for a fairly substantial subsidy tax credit. The only 'off' thing is that the income is 100% from hubby (this comes into play in a moment).

So continue on to the quote screen, see that they can buy a $5,250 deductible HSA-compliant plan for about $50/month (total for the two of them, after applying $1,250 subsidy). Nice.

Yesterday, Suzy stopped in to pull the trigger, and we went to sign them up. We carefully went through each screen, and confirmed that we'd entered all the relevant personal info for both of them. But when we got to the "checkout lane," the premium had gone from $50 to almost $80, and - weirder still - it seemed to only list Suzy.


So, we call the hotline, and sure enough, they were only showing her as on the plan; keep in mind, we both saw me click the buttons to include hubby. Okay, no big deal, nice guy at the other end got us all hooked up, hubby added and, lo and behold, a miracle:

Instead of $80 for Suzy alone, it was $40 for the two of them.

And yeah, I'm thinking this, too.

Apparently the gummint also works in mysterious ways. How else to explain why it's half the cost to insure both of them?

Monday, December 09, 2019 Enrollment: Week 5 Results

As we head into the home stretch:

[click to embiggen]

Total plan selections are down from last week, which makes sense: at this point it's primarily fence-sitters finally taking the plunge. Ditto on new consumers, down by about 25%.

Will be interesting to see how this week, the final one of Open Season Enrollment '19, shapes up.

Friday, December 06, 2019

Is this the "Next Big Thing?"

Probably not, but still very promising:

Regular readers will be familiar with Dr Rob, one of the pioneers of the Direct Primary Care (DPC) practice model. As the video explains, he's expanded the practice to include family medicine and even an obesity focused doc. As always, we wish Dr Rob the greatest success, and are delighted that he's taken this to the next level.

Oh, you wondered why I said it's probably not "the next big thing?" Well, for starters, lacking availability of true catastrophic health insurance plans (which are illegal under ObamaCare), folks still need to have some kind of insurance coverage for big ticket items, which means double coverage.

For another, DPC proponents decry the lack of choice offered by narrow networks (now the norm), but this seems to me to be the epitome of such.

I do like that they're looking beyond the scope of individual subscriptions ("retail") and seeking to partner with employers. The issue there, of course, is capacity and scalability. Will be fascinating to see this develop.

Thursday, December 05, 2019

Sure, sure, but hey: Free! A #Medicaid4All Story



Interesting ACA case: Tax Credit Conundrum edition

Sometimes Open Enrollment can be interesting. Case in point: Pastor Jerry.

Pastor Jerry is the newly hired clergyman for a local church, with a nice compensation package made up of three parts: a salary, a housing allowance, and a reimbursement arrangement for medical insurance. The salary and housing allowance are fixed, known costs, while the health insurance budget is "up to $2,000 a month." And therein lies the rub:

Based on his salary/housing allowance, his family qualifies for about $800 in tax credits (aka "subsidy"). Nice, but not the end of the story. The problem is that if his employer reimburses him for the premium and/or out-of-pocket expenses that increases his annual income and screws up the subsidy calculation. It's kind of chasing its own tail. I spent quite a bit of time in separate phone calls with the nice folks at; the best advice (well, the easiest advice) was to just forgo the subsidy and avoid the whole mess.

There's a lot to be said for this: indeed, the KISS Principle holds much sway. But I really hate to leave (government) money "on the table," and wracked my brain trying to come up with a better way.

Lying in bed the other evening, it hit me: when choosing how much of one's subsidy to use, folks almost always pull the trigger for the full amount (which makes sense: results in lowest premium). But one can, in fact, choose to use $0 upfront, and just claim it the following April. This was a true epiphany: it means there's no real downside, nor is there any possibility of "clawback." Indeed, the worst case scenario is that he gets very little money back, but it's still better than having to cough it up in the following year's taxes.

Pretty nifty.

Oh, we also discussed precisely how to handle that out-of-pocket reimbursement, and decided on an HSA over an HRA. They'll be working with our friends at FlexBank on this.

Exit question:  given the facts above, what potential issue do you see regarding the employer's reimbursement versus the delayed tax credit?

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

The Importance of Life Insurance: Real Life

Co-blogger Bob V tipped us to this important, all too common story:

"My husband is my caregiver, and spending $45 a month on his life insurance means I won't be alone if he dies."

Rebecca Chamaa was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, and relies on her husband as her primary caregiver and advocate. If he were to die, she would need to be able to afford a full-time nurse (or equivalent), which can get pretty spendy. Hence, the importance of life insurance:

"Like many people, my husband had a small life insurance policy at work, but that policy wouldn't cover our mortgage or provide enough cash for me to stay in our home, pay for funeral expenses, and arrange for someone to help me with household tasks, or at a minimum some caregiving activities."

Very moving, very timely.

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

Waiting on the MVNHS©

And we do mean waiting:

[click to embiggen]

Thanks to our friends at the Association of American Physicians and Hospitals, we learn that north of four-and-a-half million Brits are on waiting lists. For those keeping score, that totals out to almost "7 percent of the entire British population."

Talk about a 7 percent solution...

And it's not just in hospitals:


Monday, December 02, 2019 Enrollment: Week 4 Results

According to email from the Feds, "in week four of the 2020 Open Enrollment period, 703,556 people selected plans using the platform."

Of course, this just means that folks have added plans to their carts, the real numbers will be when (if?) they actually pull the trigger and send in a check.

In any case, here's last week's snapshot:
[click to embiggen]

Total plan selections are down about 7% from Week 2 (we missed last week dues to Thanksgiving travel). New consumers are down, as well, as are renewals.

This makes sense, however: we're already a month into the process, and (presumably) most of the folks who are going to make a choice have already done so. I do expect a slight uptick the final week as procrastinators make their choice.