October 3, 2019
A Letter to Insurers About Newsletters
by Michael Shaw
Insurers can opine about healthcare reform but should not dress opinions with the veil of impartiality, as if they have no conflicts of interest.
Insurers have a right to air their opinions. Insurers have the freedom to advance their opinions—to advertise their opinions—and criticize hospitals for rising healthcare costs. But insurers should not disguise their opinions with the veil of impartiality, as if they don’t have a commercial interest involving healthcare reform.
What should be obvious to readers, what is obvious to readers of this site, is less obvious to visitors of other sites; because what people see elsewhere looks more like a newsletter than an ad or a paid piece of advocacy; because insurers risk compromising their credibility by applying a cosmetic touch to a complex issue, one that is a touchstone—more like a lightning rod—for debate, possibly civil; disagreement, probably contentious; and division, definitely passionate and uncivil.
If insurers want to avoid that scenario, and they would be wise to do so, they should say what they mean instead of saying what they want in a misleading way: News is for newsletters, and opinions belong on the editorial page.
To breach the wall between the two, to pretend to respect the wall while trying to dismantle it, to weaken the wall while claiming to sponsor it, while running sponsorships that look like acts of reporting but read like a call to action—to do these things is to impeach the reputation of the insurance industry.
I write these words out of concern for the insurance industry.
I write these words to caution insurers, not condemn them, because my concern is for the honor and integrity of the industry as a whole.
We cannot afford a loss of confidence—a vote of no confidence—toward an industry of such size and significance. We cannot afford to aggravate an already cynical public by having insurers harm themselves, unintentionally or not; it is difficult if not impossible to regain the trust of consumers.
Remember, too, that clarity is better than agreement. That is to say, it is better to state an opinion; it is better to clarify an opinion; it is better to emphasize a point of distinction, to express a point of view—in plain language—than it is to cheapen the currency of communication.
More to the point, we cannot afford to further devalue the power of words. Not when we suffer from a poverty of trust. Not when we suffer from a wealth of inflated words and lackluster deeds, from a lack of action by people in positions of trust. Not when we do not trust what leaders say or do.
May the insurance industry accept my words with the openness by which I offer them. May insurers accept my advice instead of attempting to avoid it, because criticism is unfair—criticism of hospitals is unjust—when news about hospitals reads like commentary against hospitals.
For the sake of insurers, may candor prevail.
For the sake of everyone, may clarity be the prevailing idea that governs the writing and publication of newsletters.