Four Guidelines for Ethical Conduct

Posted On: July 15, 2014

Like millions of people this spring, I had the opportunity to attend the graduation of a family member. Aside from seeing my nephew graduate as a doctor, a second treat for me that day was, surprisingly, hearing a wonderful keynote address by Darrel. G. Kirch, MD, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Association of Medical Colleges. Dr. Kirch followed the formula for successful commencement speakers: “be bold, be brief, and be seated.” He added another factor, “be inspiring,”and spoke about four principles of medical ethics that have stood the test of time and may serve as guideposts for young doctors. In my opinion, these four principles of clinical ethics are relevant to insurance professionals and I am passing them along for your consideration:

  1. Do Good: Being a physician is more than just having a well-compensated job with a high social status. At the heart of a true physician is a passion and a deep desire to do good. Physicians sometimes serve with little compensation and under difficult circumstances. A medical missionary or a family doctor who made house calls in the past might have received little in terms of monetary compensation and have been motivated by their deep desire to do good.

Insurance professionals can help people solve financial problems arising from death, sickness, accidents, disability, and even loss of property due to natural catastrophes and perils such as fire, wind, hail, etc. No other than an insurance agent is more equipped to help solve these problems. The most respected agents I have met are not primarily motivated by winning awards and making money—they have this deep desire to do good instead. “Take care of the people and they will take care of you,” was a thought often expressed by my first insurance mentor, Mr. James E. Bettis, CLU.

  1. Do No Harm: Often, a physician will need to decide between intervention and comfort, especially in the last stages of life. Making a decision to use certain drugs and techniques may have serious and irreversible side effects, and the cure may be worse than the condition.

Insurance professionals can cause harm and are at risk of big liability lawsuits if they recommend actions and products that are not appropriate for clients. Before 2008, it was possible for a person to receive substantial growth from securities accounts that were greater than more conservative bond and cash accounts. However, after massive stock market losses, people in retirement—or getting ready for retirement—found themselves out of money, out of time, and out of luck. Often, the next step was to find a lawyer. Is it better to miss out on some growth than to place a client in a position in which they may never recover? “Do no harm” is a principle to remember if you want to keep out of jail. Economy: Physicians can recommend, but in the end, the patient has to make the final decision and that decision needs to be respected. Enormous expenses can be incurred at the end of the life cycle. An insurance policy may or may not cover the expenses of invasive procedures of the patient (depending on the health condition), especially if there is little likelihood of improvement. This is related to the “do no harm” principle since financial harm can be destructive as well. Insurance professionals are aware that purchasing an insurance contract to transfer risk is the starting point for many producers. It should be the ending point. The purpose of an insurance professional is not to sell insurance, in spite of what some sales managers may think. The purpose is to help clients identify risk, eliminate as much risk as possible, mitigate the frequency and severity of risk, transfer as much risk to others as possible, assume as much risk as possible, and then—only then—transfer the remaining risk to an insurance company for a premium (in other words, by selling an insurance policy). This is a cost-efficient and effective way to assist a client and build a long-term relationship.

  1. Justice: As defined by Dr. Kirch, justice means a professional obligation to make sure the system works.Examples were provided to show that the United States leads the world in medical research, drug development, clinical testing, surgical procedures, diagnostic equipment usage and development, and other aspects of medicine. However, by many measures—including infant mortality—it is clear that the United States does not lead the world in delivery systems for the majority of citizens.

Physicians know more about providing care to the patient—justice can be obtained by rising above political views and considering how the health of our nation can be protected and improved by developing effective and affordable delivery systems. Insurance professionals cannot deny that justice as a professional obligation and effective delivery systems are crucial to the field of health insurance. For example, approximately 24.6% of all residents of Texas had no health insurance in 2012. The healthcare landscape is changing rapidly and drastically with the new Affordable Care Act. Over 8.1 million applied for enrollment in 2013 and in the first quarter of 2014, despite issues with the healthcare rollout. This means that there’s a means for hospitals and doctors to be paid, and a way for healthcare services to reach millions who cannot afford them in the past. A political storm is building—similar to what happened when Social Security was instituted, when Medicare was introduced, and when Medicaid rolled out. An insurance producer should, first of all, study the laws and provisions—then explain and offer the coverage to clients, and let the customers decide if their political views allow them to participate in the program. I hope that these ideas can help insurance professionals to consider their own obligations and responsibilities toward the client who has trusted them to manage risk.   *The author may be contacted at:

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