Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Take Care prices themselves out of the market

Food For Thought 7-13-07

Hi friends, this is Harry Blalock; General Manager for radio stations KZMI & KCNM. It’s that time once again to take a look at the issues of the week, and to offer some Food For Thought.

The economic realities of just how bad things really are are being brought home to us in almost daily doses lately. Every time I see another example of the economic hardships and cutbacks taking place, I want to just grab former Governor Babauta by the scruff of the neck, and ask him, is this your idea of pretty darn good? I’ve already heard that he’s testing the waters and seeing what his chances would be of running for either Washington Representative or Governor again. I also understand that he’s blaming the entire mess we’re in right now on the current administration. Is he really that stupid and delusional? Is he that out of touch with reality that he can’t accept responsibility for what he did to these islands? I’m still hoping that maybe this new white-collar division within the Attorney General’s office will bring him up on charges and put him behind bars. It was his arrogance and blatant ignoring of spending caps and limits, and ignoring of what was happening at C.U.C. that has put us in the situation we currently find ourselves in. I’ve had a few people ask me if our current situation doesn’t make me wish for the good old days of Babauta. I honestly don’t believe our current situation would be anywhere near as bad as it is if it weren’t for him. And to those who ask that, I ask what you’re hoping to get out of the situation if he actually makes it back into office, because that’s the only reason I could see anyone possibly thinking such a thing.

But then there are those businesses out there that just seem to want to kick us while we’re down as well. We were notified about the renewal of our health insurance this past week. Last year, Take Care, which had previously been bought out by a group of the employees and shareholders, raised our premiums by over 100% at our renewal time. This year, on the heels of a staggering huge increase last year, they have notified us that they are again raising our premiums by 110%. They now want over $500 per month for each employee, and they are asking over $1,900 a month for coverage for a family. Now I realize there may be a few people on island who can afford those kinds of premiums, however they are few and far between. And especially during times like this when we are all having to tighten our belts and cut back everywhere we possibly can, an increase like that is just obscene, especially in light of the fact that they are posting their highest profits and shares for shareholders. So I was not really very impressed with them just from that standpoint alone.

But as my favorite broadcaster, Paul Harvey would say, here is the rest of the story. When I asked what they gave as the reason for that second drastic increase in a row, I was told that one of the reasons they listed was for claims made that year. In other words they were financially penalizing us because I actually had to use my insurance last year and get a heart catheterization. Now I don’t recall them ever offering a discount or giving us any money back when we didn’t have to use the insurance, but then when you actually need it and use it, they crucify you by raising your entire companies premiums to over $6,000 a year per person. So they expect you to pay your premiums like a good client every month, but then when you actually need the services you’ve been paying for all along, they try to make you pay it all back over the next couple years through exorbitant rate increases. Now this is enough to make your blood boil and definitely push you to the edge of a coronary episode, but believe it or not that’s still not all.

The doctors I saw who told me I had a heart problem also happened to work for the FHP clinic. Now I really liked my doctor at FHP, and I’m not saying that he would have given me bad medical advice at all. But when you have a situation where the same company owns both the insurance company and the medical clinic you have to go to, and the insurance company can raise their rates based on your medical needs or diagnosis, it makes you wonder whether you can truly trust your physician. Can the insurance company tell the doctors that work for them what kind of diagnosis are acceptable or not acceptable based on the cost of treatment? After all, it is the same company that is taking your premiums and insuring you that is paying the doctors salaries. Are you truly getting the best health care possible, or are you only getting the most cost effective health care possible so that the insurance company can minimize their financial exposure and maximize their profits and dividends to share holders. And can the doctor really give you their best advice and tell you what they would do if money were no object, when they have the same company paying their salaries that is paying for your health care? To me there is an obvious conflict of interest here, and in my mind a breach of ethics as well. My concerns are really not targeted at the doctors, but at the company who runs both a health insurance company and the medical clinic that you have to use if you have their insurance. And the proof of impropriety in my mind is in the pudding. When they raise your rates by 110% and then claim it’s because of your medical claim the previous year that was based on their doctor’s diagnosis and recommendation, you really have to question whether it’s your health they’re concerned with, or their own financial health.

So the question of what we will be doing insurance wise this year just got easier for us. Take Care priced themselves out of the market, and put themselves in a position in which we don’t really feel we can trust them any longer or afford them. We have done some looking for other insurance options online, and have found some international companies, or American companies specializing in international insurance situations like ours who are offering premiums that are 1/3rd the cost of what we were quoted locally. If you find yourself or your company in a similar situation this year and simply can’t afford the outrageous increases, I’d like to encourage you to look at other options. They may not be as convenient, and you may have to pay for your medical care up front and then get reimbursed by your insurance company for it, but the amount of money you’ll be saving will more than make up for any inconvenience. I don’t know of many companies that have money to burn in this economy. Most of the businesses I know are looking for every possible area to cut and are doing whatever they have to in order to makes ends meet. This is the absolute worst time for an insurance company to be getting greedy and to try going for record profits. I believe they will find that most people will find they can live without them, and will begin looking for the alternatives. If you have a hard time finding the international insurance options online, I’d be more than happy to point you in the right direction.
I wish I had been wrong all these years about what was coming here economically and what it would mean to the island. But so far, everything is pretty much on the mark of where I said we were heading. And the scariest part of it is that we’re still not at bottom yet. The Governor said something at a PTI function the other day about us experiencing “better times” now because of the new service the phone company was offering. This is the wrong time to be insinuating that we are experiencing better times. Businesses have cut and cut and cut some more. Some of us have had to lay off up to half of our staff recently because of the economic realities and exorbitant power rates we’re faced with. Others are cutting salaries, any expenses possible and are still wondering when it will finally be enough, or how much more they can cut before there is simply no use trying to do business here anymore.

Last Wednesday the Saipan Chamber of Commerce had a meeting in which they outlined the effects to business if House Bill 15-38 actually passes with it’s present amendments. They had done their homework and had facts and figures all prepared. The Chamber invited all the lawmakers to attend so they would see the effects and realize what this bill would do to business and the impact it would have. And yet only 5 of the 28 lawmakers actually bothered to show up to hear the presentation. Does this mean that our lawmakers don’t really care about the effects their bill will have on business? Does it mean that they don’t want to hear what business thinks would make this bill palatable for them? Does it mean that they didn’t think they could actually understand the presentation anyway, so there was no point sitting through it? The lawmakers who did bother showing up were Senator Maria “Frica” Pangelinan, Speaker Oscar Babauta, and Representatives Manny Tenorio, Ray Yumul and Absalon Waki.

Wouldn’t you think that the rest of the lawmakers would have been at least a little curious to find out what the business community thought the impacts of this bill would be? Wouldn’t you have thought it would have at least shown some sort of interest or competence on their part? And this bill hasn’t even been through the Senate yet. That means the Senators still have to debate on this bill and then vote on it. But yet 8 of the 9 senators didn’t even bother to show up to hear about the business communities concerns with the bill. These lawmakers aren’t responsive, and the only people they are representing are themselves. Voting as a business person, I can guarantee that I won’t vote for a single one of them that didn’t bother showing up for that meeting, I’m looking for 23 replacements automatically this coming election.

I’m Harry Blalock, thanking you once again for giving me a generous slice of your valuable time, and allowing me to share my Food For Thought.

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