Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Wal-Mart, Keith Olbermann, and the Injury Victim

Wal-Mart, Keith Olbermann, and the Injury Victim

Its tragedy.

-The Bee Gees

Keith Olbermann does a nightly feature on MSNBC called, “Worst Person in the World.”

Recently, he gave the award to Wal-Mart after he heard the saga of Debbie Shank.

Shank was a Wal-Mart employee who was horribly injured when a truck ran into her car.

She had health insurance coverage from Wal-Mart. When litigation ended against the trucking company, she received $417,000.

Wal-Mart wanted it. All of it. Under federal law, they are entitled to get it. They had paid out over $470,000 for Debbie’s medical care.

Even though Shank paid premiums to get health insurance coverage, the law says that Wal-Mart can have their money back

Olbermann put the wrong villain on his list. Wal-Mart is not the problem. Federal laws are written to favor health insurance providers over injured employees.

Wal-Mart shouldn’t be the Worst Person in the World. The United States Congress should have the honor.

There are thousands of cases like Debbie Shank. Few make it to national television. It is not an isolated case of Wal-Mart versus one employee. Shank is the symbol of a national outrage.

There are many situations where injured people wind up with little or no money. The health insurance company grabs their piece and the victim gets what is left over, if there is anything left over.

In 25 years as a structured settlement consultant, I’ve been involved in over 1000 mediations or settlements. I’ve watched health insurance carriers get more and more aggressive. No one has been able to stop them.

Until Debbie Shank made national news.

If you fall off your roof and spend a year in the hospital, your health insurance pays. If a truck runs a red light and rams into you, they usually don’t.

Health insurance is supposed to cover you when you are sick or hurt. It shouldn’t make any difference how you were sick or hurt.

It’s hard to find a sadder situation than Debbie Shank. The truck that hit her did not carry enough insurance. She has a severe brain injury and will need help for the rest of her life. She can’t remember things from day to day. When she is told repeatedly that her son died defending our country in Iraq, she hears it each time like it was the first time.

Wal-Mart is the perfect corporate heavy. They have oodles of bad media about how they treat their employees. They have a history of aggressively litigating claims.

Wal-Mart self insures for their health insurance and makes them an easy target to identify. The story would not have made national news if it had been a faceless health insurance company taking Shank’s money. It is the type of thing that goes on every day.

Olbermann must hope that Wal-Mart will cave to the firestorm of bad publicity and leave Shank alone. Not a chance. Wal-Mart had to go after her. If they caved on Shank, what do they do with the next injured employee? Or the next 1000 injured employees?

Collecting subrogation on health insurance claims has become a billion dollar business. Wal-Mart’s stockholders would be aghast if that company stopped collecting money that federal laws allows them to grab.

Doing the right thing would put Wal-Mart at a competitive disadvantage. If Obermann checks out Wal-Mart’s biggest competitors, I am sure he will find hundreds of people treated like Debbie Shanks.

If Wal-Mart is named as the Worst Person in the World, you need to add most of the Fortune 500 too.

Debbie Shank’s case highlights a practice that needs to stop. I hope she gets to keep her money but more than that, I hope her situation puts a face on a national disgrace.

fter Wal-Mart weighed in, Debbie’s husband decided to file for divorce so that Debbie can get more in government benefits.

The United States taxpayers will be paying more for Debbie’s care because Wal-Mart took her money.

Tax dollars are indirectly making Wal-Mart more profitable. Just like they are making a lot of health insurance carriers more profitable.

It is not just happening to Debbie. It is a practice that is going on everyday.

And it is a tragedy.

Don McNay, CLU, ChFC, MSFS, CSSC is the Chairman of the Board for McNay Settlement Group in Richmond, Ky. You can write to him at don@donmcnay.com or read his award winning syndicated column at www.donmcnay.com

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