Monday, January 7, 2008

Health insurance audits poised as a trend for 2008

Does anyone remember the episode of the Drew Carey Show where Drew's dog needed a hip replacement? Drew couldn't afford it, so he claimed his dog as his gay husband to get coverage under his employer's medical plan. I was reminded of it Saturday morning when reading the front page of the Cleveland Plain Dealer's business section, which had an article on employer audits to verify health insurance dependents. The article reports that to control rising insurance costs, more and more companies are auditing their health plans and requiring employees to prove (via marriage and birth certificates) the status of claimed dependents. It cites Chrysler as an example, which found 20,000 ineligible dependents saving the company millions of dollars.

Maybe I'm missing something here, but isn't this fraud? Do we want employees working for us who willfully steal by claiming false dependents? Today's unqualified dependent could be tomorrow's embezzlement. Isn't this covered by our employee handbooks, which should have a policy that states that theft is grounds for immediate discharge? But, at the same time, can Chrysler continue to build cars if it has to terminate 20,000 employees? Could you survive if you had to immediately terminate a percentage of your workforce? You could pick one or several employees to set an example, but then you run the risk of being scrutinized under the discrimination laws for who you selected and did not select.

Maybe the best way to handle this problem is to write it directly into your employee handbook. Change your termination policy to clearly state that claiming an unqualified dependent for company benefits is considered theft and subject to discipline up to and including termination. That way, expectations are established on the front end, and employees will have less of reason to cry foul if they are terminated for this type of insurance fraud.