Sick notes

The Inhuman Resources Manager at The Unpleasantness set up compulsory meetings for us all to learn about a new health plan this week. Yet another hour of my life I’ll never get back – though at least someone was paying me to sit through this one.

Like most (apparently) respectable employers, mine already operates one private health plan with a well known con artist, with free basic membership for all employees and a chance to include your family and add other “benefits” if you pay extra. Knowing that, behind the scenes, private hospitals and clinics are rackets run on a shoestring while billing each item of medical care (from a paracetamol or surgical swab) at about 10 times the cost that a diligent NHS manager would compute it to be, then adding “extras” like a glass of water, a bath or change of sheets at, say, £50 per unit, and also knowing such centres of clinical excellence will be staffed by surgeons who rarely meet basic training requirements, assisted by moonlighters who struggle into theatre after a double shift on underpaid NHS facilities, I choose not to.

I’m also trying to get out of my “free” membership, surmising that it’s little more than a tax scam whereby I get taxed for a compulsory “ benefit in kind” that I never wanted and will never use (for the reasons outlined above) while my employer gets a tax break on alleged payments to the health plan. Because the thing is, employers rarely have to pay for such schemes anyway. What happens is that the insurance companies behind them offer free basic plans to employers in return for the employers recruiting staff, who take up paid options which bring in all the real income.

All that aside, the reason for this week’s meeting was to get round an apparent glitch whereby the service provider (having noticed employees generally use the service for routine and trivial treatments such as dental check-ups and chiropody) introduced a £250 excess fee. The company’s answer to this was a second health plan which meets that fee, then offers other “benefits”. In practice, these are things like gym memberships and a range of voodoo medicine such as acupuncture, homeopathy, aromatherapy or untested teeth whitening procedures. Always nice to know your employer is so concerned for your wellbeing (and so rigorous in their vetting procedures) that they place it in the hands of some shyster with all the academic and professional qualifications of, say, a Victorian village wart-charmer.

Then there’s the “confidential counselling” service by telephone which purports to help with things like substance abuse, stress, financial and relationship worries, bereavement, etc. That sounds fine until you know it is offered by a company with a lousy reputation for unethical behaviour (such as selling on client details) that you would never – ever – want to share personal problems with. For one thing because it is owned by and reports back to an insurance company which many have their company pension and life insurance with. This means all your personal worries end up on their files and cause them to up your premiums, then when you get ill or pop your clogs they have reasons never to pay out (or more precisely pay back a small portion of what you gave them).

Finally, though, I suspect it’s just that old Manx disease – Brown Envelope Syndrome – flaring up again. Seriously, I have never known such a place for petty officials who won’t do anything without a “present”. I know many Eastern Europeans who grew up with such a culture, and even they laugh at how crudely it works here.

The Manx public sector has been riddled with it for decades, and in the various supply trades it is an open secret that nothing like foodstuffs or stationery gets supplied until the relevant company employee has their palm greased. It was inevitable that such a culture would spread to bigger, supposedly more rigorous, professions. I have already mentioned that private health providers actually pay companies to get their employees on board so, as with “independent financial advisors”, it should be no surprise that insurance companies routinely give “introduction fees” to the HR or accounts personnel who are throwing millions of pounds their way – which in 99% of cases never flows back to the customer.

It’s enough to make you sick.

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