Perspective | At the Movies Part 2: Insurance Meets Satire

By: | March 1, 2019 • 2 min read

Roger Crombie is a United Kingdom-based columnist for Risk & Insurance®. He can be reached at [email protected]

Risk & Insurance® recently published online a lengthy list I compiled of fake insurance companies invented for use in the movies. A reader asked me to name my favorite insurance movie.

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Leading candidates include Double Indemnity (1944), director Billy Wilder’s noir murder and insurance fraud, Lloyds of London (1936), which portrays without an apostrophe the growth of Lloyd’s; Risk (2000), which casts an Australian insurance adjuster into a web of lies; and Gold Diggers of 1937 (1936), containing the most fake insurance companies in any film ever made and features a Busby Berkeley life insurance song (“You’ll get pie in the sky / when you die, die die, / if you buy, buy, buy / life insurance.”)

My favorite of all is Bulworth (1988), written and directed by lead actor Warren Beatty. The IMDb snippet: “A suicidal disillusioned liberal politician puts a contract out on himself and takes the opportunity to be bluntly honest with his voters by affecting the rhythms and speech of hip-hop music and culture.”

Bulworth is an acerbic, dark, romantic satire, with a murder mystery thrown in. Race, economic disparity and the rottenness of modern society are main themes. A greedy, corrupt and murderous insurance industry personifies the villainous establishment.

The device that propels the movie is proposed legislation that would force insurers “to sell to poor people.” In the view of Graham Crockett (played by Paul Sorvino), president of trade group The American Insurance Federation, black people lack the character necessary to deserve insurance.

My favorite insurance quote from a movie comes from the greatest wit who ever lived: Groucho Marx, as an insurance salesman in A Night at the Opera (1935): “I have here an accident policy that will absolutely protect you no matter what happens. If you lose a leg, we help you look for it.”

If you opt to watch it, a few advisories: Almost continuous really bad language. Offensive political views. Unusual humor. Drug abuse. Children with guns. A little too much truth for some. Worst of all, by far, anti-magazine rhetoric.

I rate this movie so highly despite the way it disrespects the insurance industry, which is almost a given in movie circles. Insurance companies in films, or their employees, are almost always bad news.

A few examples should suffice:

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Jeff Goldblum’s character John C. Nolan Jr., in Beyond Suspicion (2000): “I sell life insurance. You know what that means? That I kind of bamboozle people with a lot of mumbo-jumbo.”

Jimmy Stewart’s accountant, Standish, in The Flight of the Phoenix (1956): “Insurance companies move in mysterious ways. Like God, of course, but not half as generous.”

William Gingrich, Walter Matthau’s character in The Fortune Cookie (1966): “You feel sorry for insurance companies? They got so much money, they don’t know what to do with it. They’ve run out of storage space; they have to microfilm it.”

My favorite insurance quote from a movie comes from the greatest wit who ever lived: Groucho Marx, as an insurance salesman in A Night at the Opera (1935): “I have here an accident policy that will absolutely protect you no matter what happens. If you lose a leg, we help you look for it.” &

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

4 Companies That Rocked It by Treating Injured Workers as Equals; Not Adversaries

The 2018 Teddy Award winners built their programs around people, not claims, and offer proof that a worker-centric approach is a smarter way to operate.
By: | October 30, 2018 • 3 min read

Across the workers’ compensation industry, the concept of a worker advocacy model has been around for a while, but has only seen notable adoption in recent years.

Even among those not adopting a formal advocacy approach, mindsets are shifting. Formerly claims-centric programs are becoming worker-centric and it’s a win all around: better outcomes; greater productivity; safer, healthier employees and a stronger bottom line.

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That’s what you’ll see in this month’s issue of Risk & Insurance® when you read the profiles of the four recipients of the 2018 Theodore Roosevelt Workers’ Compensation and Disability Management Award, sponsored by PMA Companies. These four programs put workers front and center in everything they do.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top,” said Steve Legg, director of risk management for Starbucks.

Starbucks put claims reporting in the hands of its partners, an exemplary act of trust. The coffee company also put itself in workers’ shoes to identify and remove points of friction.

That led to a call center run by Starbucks’ TPA and a dedicated telephonic case management team so that partners can speak to a live person without the frustration of ‘phone tag’ and unanswered questions.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top.” — Steve Legg, director of risk management, Starbucks

Starbucks also implemented direct deposit for lost-time pay, eliminating stressful wait times for injured partners, and allowing them to focus on healing.

For Starbucks, as for all of the 2018 Teddy Award winners, the approach is netting measurable results. With higher partner satisfaction, it has seen a 50 percent decrease in litigation.

Teddy winner Main Line Health (MLH) adopted worker advocacy in a way that goes far beyond claims.

Employees who identify and report safety hazards can take credit for their actions by sending out a formal “Employee Safety Message” to nearly 11,000 mailboxes across the organization.

“The recognition is pretty cool,” said Steve Besack, system director, claims management and workers’ compensation for the health system.

MLH also takes a non-adversarial approach to workers with repeat injuries, seeing them as a resource for identifying areas of improvement.

“When you look at ‘repeat offenders’ in an unconventional way, they’re a great asset to the program, not a liability,” said Mike Miller, manager, workers’ compensation and employee safety for MLH.

Teddy winner Monmouth County, N.J. utilizes high-tech motion capture technology to reduce the chance of placing new hires in jobs that are likely to hurt them.

Monmouth County also adopted numerous wellness initiatives that help workers manage their weight and improve their wellbeing overall.

“You should see the looks on their faces when their cholesterol is down, they’ve lost weight and their blood sugar is better. We’ve had people lose 30 and 40 pounds,” said William McGuane, the county’s manager of benefits and workers’ compensation.

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Do these sound like minor program elements? The math says otherwise: Claims severity has plunged from $5.5 million in 2009 to $1.3 million in 2017.

At the University of Pennsylvania, putting workers first means getting out from behind the desk and finding out what each one of them is tasked with, day in, day out — and looking for ways to make each of those tasks safer.

Regular observations across the sprawling campus have resulted in a phenomenal number of process and equipment changes that seem simple on their own, but in combination have created a substantially safer, healthier campus and improved employee morale.

UPenn’s workers’ comp costs, in the seven-digit figures in 2009, have been virtually cut in half.

Risk & Insurance® is proud to honor the work of these four organizations. We hope their stories inspire other organizations to be true partners with the employees they depend on. &

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]