M. Giant's
Throwing stuff at the internet to see what sticks

Tuesday, June 10, 2003  

You Bet? You Better.

I’m not much into gambling. Slot machines in particular hold no allure for me. I stick in a quarter, I pull a lever, nothing happens, and I’m already bored. And poorer. If someone would combine slot machines with video games and reward me for actual skill, I’d be all over that. Having the opportunity to win money and shoot zombies at the same time would undoubtedly make me better at both. Then I would be independently wealthy and free from fear of the undead. Instead I can only look back at all of the change I’ve lost on gambling machines and the rolls of quarters I’ve fed into “House of the Dead II.”

(Oh, and the seventy bucks I scored the one time I played blackjack with a live dealer in my life, but that doesn’t count. That was Vegas.)

And yet I live in a state where gambling is mandatory. They don’t call it gambling, of course. They call it “auto insurance.” But it amounts to the same thing.

Think about it. Every time you pay your car insurance premium, you’re paying off a bet that you made and lost—a bet that you’d crash your car before your premium came due. If you “win” your bet by cutting off a mobile home and yanking your parking brake, the insurance company will buy you part of a new car and then make you pay shorter odds on your next bet. In other words, a higher premium. And that’s assuming they still want to play with you. As I can attest, insurance companies don’t need a lot of provocation before they decide to cash in their chips and go home. They’ll take your money for years without complaint, but just try going through a couple of years of accidents and speeding tickets and see how surly they get. All the money I paid them over the years, they owed me that new engine.

But the house makes the rules. So I paid through my sinuses for a couple of years while my driving indiscretions receded into the distance. Then, a couple of months ago. I asked for new odds. I won’t tell you the name of my insurance company at the time, but when I called them at 1-800-PROGRESSIVE, I had a surreal conversation in which I learned that two years of having a flawless driving record gave me the opportunity to slash my semi-annual premiums by a dramatic .001%. And that was because I was a current customer. If I had been a new customer, I could have saved .002%. Time to look for a new casino.

The next place I found was willing to cut me more of a break, on the order of two hundred bucks a month or so. I had them put the paperwork in motion, looking forward to having that much more disposable cash every month, which I would spend on taunting postcards to my previous insurance company. Then, while the last weeks of my old policy ticked away, my new insurer decided they didn’t want to play with me after all. This after signing me up, executing a policy, and giving me a month of coverage. Weasels. Apparently they balked at my claim history. Like I’m going to keep pulling out of my driveway without looking where I’m going, or trying to drive through puddles so large they have tides. I learned those lessons, okay? Can I please come out of my room, now? Because in a week I’m going to be without car insurance and I really think I need to address that.

I blame the back-office bean counters for this, because my new and soon to be former agent was a total mensch about it. In his embarrassment and eagerness to make this right for me, he called up a colleague. Much to his shock and mine, the colleague’s company would not only take me on, not only do it quickly, but charge me half of what I’d been paying in car insurance for the last three years. Half. This may not seem like a big deal to those of you whose insurance companies think you shit ice cream and therefore charge you premiums that you can rank on your household budgets somewhere between “paper clips” and “gravity,” but for me it was the equivalent of a ten percent salary raise. I don’t know why they were willing to do that. The new agent explained something to me about “stacking coverage,” but all I heard was “blah blah blah HALF blah blah.” As far as I can figure, it’s like serving prison sentences concurrently, or it’s predicated on their assumption that I can only drive one of our cars at a time, but who cares? HALF! Sign us up! Deal us in! Do it now!

That’s why it was such a bummer to get that letter that said they were denying us coverage.

This sucked. We’d had about a month to enjoy our largesse. I wasn’t even hooked on the coke yet. And now I had to find another insurer, a process that had taken me months in the first place?

I could do that, or I could call our agent in a panic. Always try the easiest thing first, I like to say.

Apparently the letter was from one of the insurance company’s other subsidiaries who had gotten an inquiry from our agent, decided to pass, then told us instead of our agent. Because their commitment to customer service compels them to let us know they rejected us personally, even though we didn’t know they’d been approached in the first place. Our policy was still valid and would continue to be so.

Still, we don’t need this stress. The whole purpose of insurance from the customer’s point of view is to help smooth out the bumps and edges in life, not create more of them.

Maybe what we need is insurance insurance. Of course, with my history, I probably wouldn’t be able to afford it.

posted by M. Giant 2:43 PM 0 comments


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