Thursday, September 11, 2008

Last stop, this town.

On When the Levees Broke:
I think the thing to remember when watching this documentary is simply this: sometimes, it's more economical to not do the right thing. We've seen this dog and pony show before, and I can guarantee, beyond a reasonable doubt, that we'll see it again in the very near future. This time, however, we saw a domestic example of this occurring, but more importantly, this was seen as an anomaly, so it was well-publicized. This was the first category five storm to hit New Orleans in decades and I think a lot of people that survived Betsey and were building the subsequent levees did not bank on the possibility of such an event happening, just like we thought it couldn't happen again in 1927. Apparently, if we choose to nothing at all, or at the very least, feign a caring attitude, we can save a ton of money. You can't lose any money at a casino if you never gamble.
As I was watching this for the first time years ago, I was surprised. Those were more naive times, however, and as I watched it again and again over the years, I became less and less surprised. Our country's sweep-it-under-the-rug attitude, combined with its penchant for screwing its citizens makes it a hotbed for corporate, or more precisely, capitalist, corruption. It is the economics of amnesia that allows them to sleep at night. It pays better. The United States has a very long and colorful history of doing the wrong thing in order to make billions and doing the wrong thing to save billions. Either way, the house always wins. Businesses took the lessons that the government had learned and adopted them into their policies. Where do you think the insurance companies learned it from? It became acceptable. Many Americans see the government as the ultimate source of conduct. They create laws, we follow them. They feed us information, we believe them.
When I saw interviews with people that were trying to file insurance claims, I knew exactly where they were. Navigating that world is one of the most helpless and frustrating experiences you'll ever experience. The insurance companies, though they have their commercials saying that they'll be there on a moment's notice, are a commercial business. Commercial, as in they intend to make a profit off of you. So what happens when you want to get money from them? Prepare for the fight of your life. Honestly, I feel badly for these people that got taken for a ride, because, in some ways, I got taken for a ride, too. Fortunately, I had the time and stamina to sit on a phone all day for over two months in order to get what my insurance policy promised. Insurance companies, just like other commercial businesses and governments, find it very economical to do the wrong thing as much as possible.
I found the whole thing a bit sickening every time I watch it, though. I just can't understand how some people can be so apathetic when they're paid or elected to respond to problems. Maybe I would understand if I came from that culture, controlled by money and the necessity for power. Maybe it is cheaper to sweep these people under the rug, but it gives me a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach every time I think of the idea of somebody thinking that way. I really wish we could shy away from the idea of a cost-benefit analysis being needed to perform any action.

How to not get screwed by your insurance company: a primer.
1. Have documentation for everything. By documentation, I don't just mean receipts, but actual files containing information about your past equipment purchases. This will be immensely helpful if you have to file a claim. Receipts get lost and with them, invoice and order numbers. If you have these numbers written down somewhere else, they can typically be reprinted, thus giving you a proof of purchase. Also, as I found out when I was trying to recover a few lost receipts, it's very valuable to have your accounts attached to an e-mail that cannot be deleted. B&H's policy to recover passwords, and thusly, receipts, is to send your password to your e-mail. If you've changed service providers, or in many Comcast customers' cases, your service was taken over, your past e-mail addresses will be inaccessible. So they may have sent it to your e-mail, but your e-mail no longer exists. GMail is truely a godsend, sometimes.
2. Do not have your equipment insured under your homeowner's policy. I will repeat that, because this is important. Do not have your equipment insured under your homeowner's policy. Homeowner's insurance has limitations as to whether or not they will pay out. For example, if you're a photo student and you take a few jobs and you make some money, then you better make sure you got paid in cash and hide it under your mattress or else you'll be classed as a commercial owner...without a commercial policy. Thusly, your equipment will be either broken or stolen and it will likely stay that way, because your insurance company will not pay out, I can guarantee it. If you never take any jobs and you're too cheap to get real insurance, be prepared to furnish all of your bank records going back as far as five years as you will be audited as part of your settlement. Commercial policies also have the advantage of providing you with money for renting equipment while yours is being replaced.
3. Do not get bullied around. If somebody seems incompetent or doesn't seem to be doing anything for you, ask to be transfered to another adjuster or speak to their manager. If you don't do this, your claim will circle the department for months before anything happens. Go as far up the chain of command as you have to to get your way. If you need to, call them every single day to ask them what they are doing for you. Put them at your mercy instead you at theirs. Hopefully, they'll get so annoyed with you that they will settle your claim to save their sanity.
4. Have five copies of every single receipt, invoice, purchase order, etc. Divide these up into five files and put them five different locations, one of them being off site. One of these copies will go to the insurance company when you file a claim, and one will go to the insurance company when you buy the policy. If possible, get pictures of every piece of equipment and record the serial numbers. There is a reason why Canon sends out warranty cards with almost every piece of equipment. It's to cover your ass, not theirs. A lot of things have serial numbers, too, so write them down.
5. Have money saved up for mailing thing via Priority Mail. Insurance companies will not take anything via fax or e-mail. Snail mail will become your saving grace, but often times, insurance companies are located in different states and will take about a week to arrive, minimum. Priorty gets there in two days, maximum. Time is money and that time will keep your claim moving along and settled more quickly.

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