« June 2009 | Main | August 2009 »

Obesity, Risk, and Obama's Selection of Surgeon General

President of the United States, Barack Obama, has sought to appoint an overweight person to the post of surgeon general. This is raising cries that she is unsuitable because of her weight. Surely, cry the anti-obesity campaigners, this knocks her out of contention!

Click here to grab a quick look at one story - and to assess for yourself in unscientific ways just how much of a chubster the learned Doctor Regina Benjamin may or may not be.

But does this matter?

The POTUS has been struggling with getting his health care reform through congress, and as a consequence is already labouring with the an approval rating at the same stage in his presidency that is ninth out of the last twelve presidents.

But on the issue of choosing his Surgeon General he gets some support from the right wing think tank the Cato institute. You see, they like freedom. In the same way as they support Obama's freedom to smoke - shock, horror - they allow Dr. Benjamin the right to dine heartily. But even moving past philosophical considerations, they cast doubt on the issue of obesity, citing research which shows that men in the overweight category of BMI have a lower mortality rate than men in the normal category.

So theres the link to risk.

Campbell Live and Sovereign

This is your Campbell Live and Sovereign digest.

First - here's the link to the item on TVNZ's site.

Next up, here's the Insurance Ombudsman FAQ on "They say I didn't tell them..." Link. Perhaps the Campbell Live team read this - but didn't think a discussion on the principle of 'utmost good faith' would make such good television. They only had 10 minutes, and choices have to be made - as a journalist, I understand that.

Now there's the section on Phil's Blog - all about "it's time to counter bad press" - does the industry have a bad reputation? Maybe, but as you will see if you go to the ombudsman service complaint stats thats mainly about general insurance. Basically, the higher the frequency of claim, and the greater the proportion of declined claims, that's there the greater problems will be. Life insurance scores low on each - which is why this story is thankfully of a very rare type.

So now here's the section on the ISI website showing claims paid by the industry. It's an impressive figure, but we know that the number on it's own does not answer criticism. An inquiring mind owuld want to know what proportion of claims are declined, how many result in complaints (see the Ombdusman scheme) and whether these numbers are rising or falling (they are pretty stable).

Let's steer clear of the specific case, we none of us have the information to do a very good job of that on the basis of what is public.

Questions: there are some questions aorund the transfer of business from one insurer to another and the protection of the client in that process. Another is the process an adviser should follow when he or she feels that the client may not have been complete in their disclosure. Reducing uncertainty is the aim of insurance, and other mechanisms to reduce it could be offered. We don't ask for medical information from every client's doctor because of the cost, but if a client wanted us to ask their doctor rather than rely on their memory, we could offer that option. Perhaps even at an additional cost.

Life Insurance Categorisation

When considering the section which defines life insurance as category 2 prior to 31 December 2008, and category 1 after that date, remember that life insurance has a special definition in this piece of law:

The Financial Advisers Act definition for Life Insurance is:

"life insurance policy has the same meaning as in section 2(1) of the Securities Act 1978"

The Securities Act definition for Life Insurance in Section 2(1) is as follows:

"•    Life insurance policy means a policy of life or endowment insurance, or a policy securing an annuity; and includes—
o    (a) A policy of insurance that is declared by regulations to be a life insurance policy for the purposes of this Act; and
o    (b) A renewal or variation of the terms or conditions of any such policy or a security referred to in paragraph (a) of this definition;—
but does not include any such policy, or a security referred to in paragraph (b) of this definition, or a term life insurance policy (within the meaning of regulations) that is declared by regulations not to be a life insurance policy for the purposes of this Act"

I believe this means that whole of life, endowment, etc, are securities, and therefore category 1. Whereas, term life, income protection, etc - these are exempt, and will therefore be category 2. I have been guilty of saying that this is a damn complicated way to define it, (and easy to misinterpret) but on reflection, I was wrong. This is a sensible way to line up the definitions between two pieces of law that have to work together.

Particular hat tip: Peter Conroy, Asteron. Rob Dowler, Red Owl Consulting.

The First Consultant

From Mark Twain, 1867:

"It all began with Adam. He was the first man to tell a joke--or a lie. How lucky Adam was. He knew when he said a good thing, nobody had said it before. Adam was not alone in the Garden of Eden, however, and does not deserve all the credit; much is due to Eve, the first woman, and Satan, the first consultant."

Holiday Swapping

The EMA has proposed letting people of different faiths swap their holidays to dates more significant to them.

At first you might think this could be a bit of a shambles, people swapping dates all over the place, employers saddled with what to do when an odd but insufficient number of staff declare they are keen to work on Christmas day and so forth.

I am also sure that there will be the odd clever dick who spots that an important test match falls on Yom Kippur, and so sudenly becomes a devout Jew. The nascent Jedi sect may soon identify it's own holy days - Yoda's birthday must be recorded somewhere in the annals of Star Wars lore.

But then, maybe thats just my own religious-cultural bias showing. This is a sensible idea, give the flexibility to the staff. Let them choose. Also, the flexibility offered by staff who choose to take different days off may help one or two employers see past their own cultural bias when hiring too.

Cellphone Use in Cars - risks and benefits

I suspect this is a case of 'we must be seen to be doing something'. I'll explain why.

The government is proposing a ban on the use of handheld cell phones in cars - but will probably continue to allow the use of hands-free cellphones.

In the US some public action groups are seeking to take action against various states and / or the Federal government there because they have known for years that talking on a hands-free cellphone is just as dangerous. The point is that it's the conversation not the device in the hand, that causes the distraction.

The conclusion is straightforward.

If this were about public safety, we'd ban all cellphone use, and probably a bunch of other driver distractions as well. But that won't happen, because it would be so very, very, unpopular.

The next logical reaction might be to say - well, the public don't want to have anything done about this, it appears they actually don't mind the general risk, so let's do nothing about it.

But this won't fly either. The public do mind: they just mind each specific tragedy that comes from the risk.

So something must be seen to be done.

Health Risks Insurance for Man's Best Friend

A really great article about healthcare insurance, even including lifetime insurance costs, and the cost of various medical procedures, only this time, it's about pets. Of course, pampered Aucklanders that have wielded nothing more dangerous than a pen or their surfboards for generations may entertain such notions. But our more earthy country cousins know where to draw the line with pet insurance, and they draw it with a shovel and a sigh when it all gets too expensive.