Monday, August 27, 2007

Am I this clueless about the business?

To give a little background, I work in the health care insurance industry. Grand.
So today we had an exec in from the home office to give a little pep talk or something. Or acknowledge that important people are, in fact, aware that we exist. I'm not entirely sure what the point of it was.
Amidst the flow of coached company lines, it was the unguarded moments that caught me.
One of the thingies that we develop lets people "choose" the benefits they "want." Apparently, customer satisfaction ("Customer Sat" for those of us in the biz) with their benefits is reasonably high enough with people who have gone through and used the thing.
Which leads to faux pas number one - after reinforcing that people are satisfied with our product, he joked about how unsatisfied employees are with our benefits. This is no joke - my benefits have gotten worse in every way I can think of since getting hired once upon a time. More expensive, less covered, more hassles.
But somehow, giving people more choices about their health care makes them happier about what they end up with. You'll hear it referred to as "consumerism," the great hope of the health care insurance industry and if you're like me, you'll somehow find yourself pining for the "bad old" days of HMOs. And they were bad, but the new high-deductible garbage foisted on us is worse. But more choices makes it better.
To prove this, faux pas number two. Guy's got a daughter headed off to college. She's an art major and they wanted to make sure she had a laptop for school. What sort of computer do you think they got her? You don't have to be Miss Cleo to guess "an Apple" and be right. But all the choices - how big a screen, how fast a processor, yadda yadda apparently made him happier about the choice.
All I could and can think is - "yeah, but they fooled you into fooling yourself into thinking there was a choice." The only choice was "Apple" - the rest of it was window dressing. They could have offered a single make and model and he'd have bought it because they deliver a product people love (because the people that work for Apple believe in the product that they deliver (because it's a good product that people love (ad absurdum))).
Furthermore, Apple might not be around to sell jack shit if it weren't for the iPod, which doesn't give you a whole lot in the way of those choices that we apparently demand. A bigger drive, different colors. Not much in the way of choices. When it was first released, it was dead in the water because it didn't have features that other MP3 players had. The fact that no one really wanted or needed or used these other features was irrelevant - the iPod just didn't have them. Suckers.
"People don't want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!"
- Theodore Levitt
I don't buy the notion that people want to do a whole lot of choosing their health care benefits. If they're like me, all they want to know is that when shit happens, I'm not going bankrupt.
Four years ago (when we had insurance from An Insurance Company I Am Not Employed By), I had a migraine that lasted five days. I finally broke down and went to the hospital - they CAT scanned me, found an abnormality, had me back in in a few days for an MRI. Nothing wrong with it, but I should get it checked out regularly just to make sure.
I think I was out all of $10. I was happy with my insurance.
Since getting hit by the truck and getting deluged with mail, I have no such confidence in my health care. The little form letter I got after we got bought out letting me know that I just need to double-check with them before I got an MRI doesn't help matters in that confidence regard.
I see the same godawful tyranny of the amateur in financial planning - I suspect that folks in the industry there are able to trot out study after study proving that people are inexplicably (to me, at least) more satisfied with planning their own 401K. I hate it. Hate it. I don't know this mutual fund from that index fund. What do I know? That I want to retire some day (the sooner, the better) and be able to do it comfortably.
What do I want from health care? To know that if shit happens, I'm covered. I do not want to know in network, out of network, deductible, copay, blah blah blah. More information leaves me less satisfied.
I feel like we're being set to work building shadows. People are monstrously unsatisfied with their health care and a little novelty makes people momentarily happier about it (at least on a survey card) so more novelty will make them even more satisfied! And more information about it (one of the cornerstones of "consumerism" is bombarding people with information that's goddamned near impossible to parse) will make them happier!
I need that quarter inch hole. If there's any question at all about how I procure that quarter inch hole, if you make me work to figure out what drill suits my lifestyle, you run the very real risk of me finding out that someone else provides a better, faster, cheaper, stronger drill bit.
I'd like to be more Apple, ignoring what people say they like and giving people what they want and less chasing ghosts on customer satisfaction cards.

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