SGU listener Jim recently wrote the following:
My company sent out a health benefits newsletter that really stuck in my throat. (I’d love to send the pamphlet to you, but I didn’t think that would be prudent since it is a national company…and I like my job.) Here’s what it says (note: BCBS is Blue Cross Blue Shield):
BCBS is pleased to offer discounts (up to 30%) on complementary and alternative medicine products and services such as:
. Fitness Centers
. Nutrition Counseling
. Massage Therapy
. Holistic Practitioners
. Health Magazines, and many others
Two things irritate me here. First, they mix legit items like Fitness and Nutritional counseling with such crap as Acupuncture. Ugh! The context gives legitimacy to the woo.
I work in the group benefits insurance industry, so I’ll try to shed a little light on this.
More often than not, insurance companies offer coverage “packages” to their clients. An example of this would be going to McDonald’s and only being able to choose from their combo meals with no order customization. You pick combo #2, you get the Big Mac, the medium fries and the medium Coke, period. No option to super-size, small-size, make it a Diet Coke, a Sprite, a salad, etc.
This is the same for most Group Benefits Insurance Packages. They are pre-written contracts that your company (or union) can choose from. There are exceptions to the rule, mostly with extremely large companies or unions such as the federal government, where they have their own people write the contract and present it to different insurance companies competing for their business.
The woo usually comes in at the underwriting phase. When the contract is actually written. Insurance companies are well aware of the value people put on their freedom of choice when it comes to medical treatment (or anything really). Even though some people might not make the best decision for themselves, are not educated enough on a certain topic, or have a bias towards one type of treatment, insurance companies don’t really look at HOW the patient (client) is treated, just as long as they are happy and continue to pay their premiums. An insurance contract will be more appealing to more people if it covers more avenues of treatment.
It’s funny because as I write this I keep thinking of the section called “General Exclusions and Limitations” of insurance contracts and how probably about 95% of them have a clause similar to this:
No reimbursement will be made for [...] a treatment, device or drug which is considered experimental and has not been fully evaluated and deemed safe and effective.
As I continue to reimburse chiropractors, naturopaths and acupuncturists. Ahh, cognitive dissonance, my great friend.
So the bottom line is money. People are willing to pay more for more choices. The woo stuff that your company covers is not recognized or endorsed by them, nor is it recognized or endorsed by the insurance company selling you the contract. Only your money is.
As an aside, I work for a Canadian insurance company. My observations may not apply to companies in other countries. Our health care system is very different than, say, America’s. And so, perhaps medical insurance companies operate differently there. Keep that in mind.