caduceus.gifEvery year, employees have to face the possibility that their healthcare insurance coverage may change. That could mean big headaches, because often premiums go up and it’s a nightmare if your doctors or local hospital are not on the new insurance carrier’s list of providers.

So how the heck do companies decide which insurers to go with each year when open enrollment season comes along?

There’s a great story on the front page of the Wall Street Journal today titled “Double Bypass: Health-Care Consultants Reap Fees From Those They Evaluate.”

Basically the story talks about how employers hire these consultants to find the right health insurance company to cover their employees, but often times these consultants are on the dole of the very insurance companies they are supposed to be impartially evaluating.

One guy hired by the Columbus, Ohio’s School District actually got steaks, and more than half a million dollars, from the health insurance company he recommended to the district. And so the teachers and other school staff ended up with coverage from a company that may not have been in their best interest, or in the interest of the district.

The excuse from such consulting services is, “there’s nothing illegal here” and “everyone does it.”

More and more today, I hear that, that it isn’t illegal. Forget about whether the practice is ethical.

Is it?

Just in case we forgot, the American Heritage Dictionary defines ethical as: “… the accepted principles of right and wrong governing the conduct of a group.”

If you are supposed to be making unbiased recommendations to a certain party about another party, you can’t be biased. Eating steaks. Spending cool cash from that party makes you biased. Right? At least it doesn’t look good to be digesting succulent beef while you’re pretending to be dispensing advice on an empty stomach.

Employers need to scrutinize these so-called unbiased consultants more. And employees need to start taking more of a proactive role in which health insurance firms their employers hire. Ask questions. Tell your boss or HR staff if you think service is bad, or premiums are too high. The more voices in the mix the better. At least it may help drown out the insatiable carnivores.

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