While the recently signed health care bill should fix problems with our insurance system, I wonder if it will change the fact that, when you’re dealing with a health insurance company, honesty can be crippling. A recent experience taught me that if I wanted more affordable insurance, I might have to tell a few fibs.
I realized this a few weeks ago when I was shopping for cheaper health insurance and Googled my way to the company Humana One. I called the company and was soon talking with Javier, a very friendly guy who assured me that he could set me up with a plan that would save me about $30 a month, compared to my current coverage. I agreed to go ahead and apply, because I wouldn’t have to make any firm commitment on the spot.
Javier proceeded to lead me through 15 minutes of questioning so that the insurance company could rest assured that I was not sick, had never been seriously sick, nor would I likely get sick in the future. He asked me about strange-sounding afflictions, the status of pretty much every vital organ -- including body parts that you really don’t want to discuss with a stranger. Then came the fatal line of questioning.
“Do you participate in any extreme sports?” Javier asked.
And I froze. I hadn’t expected this. My mind whirled as I wondered exactly what he meant by “extreme” sports. I was thinking base-jumping, sky diving, ultimate fighting, bull riding. You know, stuff on Spike TV.
“Well, I don’t know if I do anything extreme,” I said hesitantly. “I mean, I go climbing every once in a while.
Javier was silent. I could hear him flipping pages. And it quickly dawned on me that insurance company inquisitors are like sharks, and hesitation is like a drop of blood in the water -- they smell it from miles away, and move in for the kill.
Javier then asked, “Do you do any mountain climbing?”
That startled me. When he mentioned extreme sports, I didn’t think that an insurance company would have mountaineering on its radar. It’s not as if tons of people have an ice ax in their closet. And now I was in a tight spot. Should I lie and deny the fact that I had, in fact, climbed a few mountains? No, probably not. Prior to the questioning, I’d pledged that I would answer truthfully or face some awful consequence that Javier had rattled off really quickly -- did he say “litigation” or “death by ravenous wild pigs?” Hey, this was an insurance company. It could have been either.
“Yeah, I’ve done some mountaineering,” I said. Then, hoping to steer him away, I added, “But it’s been a while, and I don’t know if I’ll do it again.”
“What is the highest altitude you have been to?” he asked in complete monotone, as if he were reading the line from a script.
Wait a minute. Insurance companies want to know what altitude you’ve been to? The question struck me as so odd that I couldn’t even come up with a lie.
“14,411 feet,” I said. A modest height by my measure. Surely, that was OK. It’s not like I’d climbed K2.
“Hmmm….” Javier didn’t dig my answer.
I knew I had botched it. I should have said that the most extreme thing I do is walk to the mailbox, and I do that in fact very very slowly and, of course, never when it’s raining or cold outside.
Javier put me on hold so that he could consult a supervisor. I listened to Barry Manilow for a few minutes (another cruel cut by the insurance company), and Javier came back on the line and asked if he could call me back. Crap. It was worse than I thought. I just knew they were consulting the official Humana One Chart of Acceptable Altitudes and calculating that I was too big a risk.
Two days later, Javier called me back, and said he had good news and bad news. The good news was that I had been approved. However, there would be a stipulation in my policy. I would not be covered if I were injured while climbing mountains.
“Well, that sucks.”
I actually said that. Out loud. And went on a rant about how it doesn’t make any sense that I would be punished for liking the outdoors, when that’s exactly what makes me a relatively healthy person.
But it didn’t do any good. I just got a few words of sympathy from Javier, who then said I would have 30 days to review the policy that was being emailed to me.
For the next couple of days, I weighed my options. If I took the deal, I might one day trip while on a mountain trail, hit my head on a rock and suffer a massive head injury, and an even more massive hospital bill -- you just know the insurance company would determine that even hiking on a trail in the Smoky Mountains was considered mountain climbing. Or maybe I could just take the offer and live out the rest of my life at low altitudes -- on asphalt where the odds of me being struck by a car or hit over the head by a thug are far greater than me getting an owie in the mountains.
I was thinking I’d screwed up, and determined that the next time I called an insurance company I’d play it right -- I’d lie my pants off. Extreme sports? Oh, no, not me. Never even heard of it.
But, perhaps because of the new healthcare bill, there is hope after all. I just got a call from the insurance company -- the representative said it was stripping out of my policy the stipulation I would not be covered if I climbed mountains. Maybe Humana just decided it was healthier for it to let people like me actually get outdoors once in a while. Might cut down on that whole obesity thing, you know? Either way, truth won out in the end.
Should I tell them I just twisted an ankle stepping off the curb on the way to my mailbox? Nah…think I’ll just keep that risky activity to myself.