by Antone P. Braga

Most people carry insurance. Why shouldn’t what awaits them on the beaten path be just a walk in the park? It has been more than 35 years now that I have been writing on the subject of insurance policyholders’ awareness/preparedness and thought it time to write a synopsis. It is most difficult for people to want to fill, what they perceive as little or no need for them.

No man can learn what he has not preparation for learning, however near to his eyes is the object. 

The “Sage of Concord” had it right, we can’t expect disaster survivors or anyone else for that matter to suddenly comprehend something new and foreign without any preparation for learning, even if by some stroke it suddenly appears in front of them. That is true in good times. However, following a disaster it is especially true that our mind is not open to new material and avenues of new information. We must come to realize we need information that prepares us long before it is needed in time of crisis. To have the sense of preparedness in of itself gives comfort just in case the unthinkable might happen, and relieves anxiety and the emotional impact of loss if the crisis does occur. I spent many years bearing witness to the incredible shock and emotional changes that most survivors go though after a disaster. Disaster preparedness along with information from the psychology profession, as a way to reduce the emotional impact of loss is now addressed on my Website*.

The great majority of people do carry insurance and it is to that segment that most of my work applies. Though it does also apply to those who do not carry insurance because most of what I write has to do with attitude. I believe too that lack of psychological emotional preparedness for disaster, and dysfunction after the disaster apply more broadly than to insurance adjusting. I think it has a great deal to do with attitude and a trend over the the last century or so that makes people less self-sufficient and more reliant on others in many ways. When we give up authority in the name of convenience we accede to being led, and that sometimes leads to a walk down the primrose path. If you are interested I wrote an essay on the subject of self-reliance entitled First Hand*. At the bottom of that essay is a link to Emerson’s famous “Self-Reliance.”

That being said, if you lack the basics it makes it impossible to assume the correct attitude for independent thought and collaborative strategy. When it comes to disasters there is nothing more basic than the elements of recovery. Those very elements that pertain to insurance took me a great many years of investigation to uncover. After more than 20 years of insurance adjusting I became surprised they existed! Some came to me by research and some came by what must be amazing serendipity. The disaster insurance rights and claim recovery rules that are unknown to virtually everyone, including nearly all insurance adjusters themselves, came as news to me in the mail when someone thought I should have them instead of some other item I had requested from the NAIC, the government entity that makes the insurance rules. And, on another day while doing research in a law library a stranger approached and said, “You might be interested in this,” and handed me excerpts from an interesting claims training manual. It laid out insurance industry tactics in dealing with the public and a layman could easily see that companies are in it to “win,” not find common ground. I still have no idea who put that kind of information in my lap, or why.

Company Adjusters and Independent Adjusters represent insurance companies. Policyholder and Public Adjusters represent policyholders. Although I worked fourteen years as an insurance company adjuster, in my latter years of adjusting that followed I worked for policyholders only. My story in retrospect is located on my Website*. I last adjusted claims in 1981 when I closed the insurance adjusting office and have since concentrated my efforts on research and publishing. I have a valid adjuster license in California to represent policyholders that can be activated any time I wish, but it is a life I left behind and have no intention to re-activate.

Some US States have no license requirements of any kind for adjusters. In the US States that do require adjuster licenses, an adjuster is either licensed to represent the company or the policyholder, and never both under the same license. There is good reason for the separation. You cannot divide your integrity in two, it is virtually impossible. It is a clear conflict of interest for the payer to represent the payee in a payment transaction, notwithstanding how insurance claims are usually handled between insurers and policyholders. Most adjusters acting on behalf of a company are not licensed at all and act under the company’s license to settle claims as the company sees fit.

The policyholder has had plenty of authority within the insurance contract to enable a fair settlement. It is more a matter of knowing that authority and how to implement it that escapes notice. That in itself is a rather large problem. Also, along those same lines many company adjusters act to represent the policyholder just as if they had that right and authority…it is commonly accepted behavior. Conflict of interest is hardly even thought of, never mind raised. The unninformed public and adjusters alike actually expect company adjusters to act that way and are disappointed if somehow that doesn’t happen. This is mostly due to rampant advertising that tells us we are in good hands, have a good neighbor, someone on our side, or some other such claim, and oddly enough the companies’ misleading, very costly advertising is paid from policyholder premiums, not from the companies’ own coffers. It is no wonder we have become helpless and lost in this area. We are programed that way, and we have been defused from our authority without being aware that it happened*. It not only helps to have rights and rules, where are we without them?

Nowhere else in our society do we tolerate anyone representing both sides in any one transaction or contract. We just haven’t gotten around to sorting it out yet when it comes to insurance. Actually it was first sorted out when insurance was invented. However, it has been gradually warped from its original intent ever since, in spite of the words that still exist and spell it out otherwise. These very words in legal terms have stood the test of time. I do believe though that eventually our commingled interests will be separated as they were originally intended, surely as any conflict of interest is worthy of separation.

The “Belly of the Beast,” isn’t really much different than anyone else’s belly. If you give someone your authority you run the risk that they don’t act in your behalf…that they put their own interest above yours. All I’m really saying is, do not unnecessarily give away your authority…to anyone or any entity. Learn the responsibility that comes with authority, protect it, and act on it when necessary to protect your interest…with or without insurance. And yes, I prefer to act under the current system, but with one major change: an informed and independent insured public. Trying to create a new system, or anarchy are not viable alternatives in my mind. We need an orderly system and this insurance system of ours was invented centuries ago. Only in recent times has it changed because companies assume they are in charge.

We merely need to reassert what is ours and participate collaboratively. There are times when one has to rely only on others. However, when it becomes the main stay of life and attitude, it is self-destructive. Who has the power? The public, if only they know they are host, not guest. The power taken is only equal to the power given, it is ours to relinquish or share as we see fit.

We may yet have an equal say, we only need to reserve it before it’s gone for good.