When the Cosmetic is Consequential

To insure is to choose whom to cover, and what not to cover. About the latter: Whenever the choice is between the consequential versus the cosmetic, whenever insurers deem a product or procedure to be inconsequential, and therefore cosmetic, they choose to deny coverage to the insured. That decision may be a matter of economics, but it is not economical in the long run; because when the cosmetic is consequential—when a small investment in a good or service can yield substantial returns, regarding quality of life and success on behalf of a person’s livelihood—it is better for insurers to allow what they would otherwise refuse to even consider covering. It is better not only for insurers but the economy as a whole, when the cosmetic can end stigmas and empower people to live—and work and socialize—with fervor. It is the best way for insurers to earn the trust and goodwill of the insured.

To enjoy that trust, insurers need to review the word “cosmetic.” They need to rethink how they use this catchall to reject coverage, because the word is easy to apply but too ambiguous to define. They need to respect the needs of an insured patient whose medical condition is chronic but not terminal, whose physical condition causes psychological pain, whose condition can improve with the right product. They need, specifically, to listen to people of a certain age.

Among the aged, for example, there is a condition known as “aging odor.” The condition is real, the evidence irrefutable, the solution indisputable. And yet, the condition is purportedly cosmetic—despite the fact that, according to Mirai Clinical, insurers do nothing to stop consumers from spending money on soaps and perfumes that worsen this condition, when one soap can eliminate this condition.

If insurers want to show their goodwill, they should subsidize goods that will help the people they insure. If they want to save money, and spare the insured from wasting money, they should re-evaluate everything they deem cosmetic.

Does that mean insurers should approve every facelift, hair transplant, skin cream, spa appointment and teeth whitening session? No. On the other hand, the insured should not have to absorb every out-of-pocket expense. Not when insurers have the freedom to choose—and the financial freedom to do—almost anything they want.

In the case of the aged, it costs insurers more not to help them than it does to provide a modicum of assistance. The cost of doing nothing is costly, indeed, as it promotes distrust, propagates disharmony and perpetuates discord among the insured and uninsured alike. Avoiding these costs requires insurers to classify the cosmetic as consequential.

By elevating the cosmetic, insurers elevate the reputation of the insurance industry. They show sympathy—they may have empathy, too—for people whose needs are serious. They show us how to help the needy. They show us how to choose responsibly, and honor our responsibilities, so we can help the old, the young; so we shall help all Americans.

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