Legally Amoral

Why do some people turn to a life of crime? Or at the very least, why do some people live their lives skirting and flirting with the edges of the law?

There could be many reasons, but they probably fall broadly into these three mutually non-exclusive categories

  1. Times are very bad and the person turns to crime to survive. That’s why crime rates go up when unemployment rates go up.
  2. The person has a pathologically criminal mind and he loves breaking the law, much like what you see in the villains that Batman battles – the folks found in Arkham Asylum like The Joker, Penguin, Two-face etc
  3. The person desires to have extraordinary or supernormal profits or pay-cheques that normal business and employment activities cannot match. These people are usually motivated by greed, and their greed overcomes their fear of the law or whatever social stigmata that comes with the running of such (legal) “shady” activities

Obviously, many of these infamous KTV outlets are operated by people belonging to the above third category. These outlets are usually called KTV clubs, bars or lounges. There are also many “family” KTV outlets which are indeed bright and wholesome (which this Hobbit sympathises with – they should indeed be statutorily classified differently from KTV clubs). But those pre-Covid KTV clubs that come with hostesses are obviously not without social stigma, yet they exist because there is demand for them and there are people willing to run these businesses because the profits and margins are very attractive.

Taking this into consideration, this hobbit cannot help but wonder – what makes some people think that by just giving them Food and Beverage (F&B) licenses, these KTV club and lounge operators will suddenly be willing to pivot to a life in the slow lane of humdrum F&B normalcy? Especially when many of these outlets don’t even have commercial kitchens. And why would anyone go to these kitchen-less F&B outlets for the food? Couldn’t they get food delivery to deliver the food to their homes instead?

In addition, it was reported in The Straits Times on 22 July 2021 that “Only 18 ex-nightlife outlets (were) given support packages to switch to F&B” by Enterprise Singapore (ESG). It was reported that 400+ such nightlife establishments pivoted to the F&B industry and yet only 18 received these support packages. This would imply at least two things – the grant was exceedingly hard to get, or that the vast majority of the 400+ outlets did not apply for the package. If the latter is true, the next question that needs to be asked is why would people not want the grant? Take the example of couples who buy a property near their parents and qualify for a government housing grant. This hobbit has never heard of anyone who would not take this grant. People who have nothing to hide will take grants if they can qualify for them. On the other hand……

To this hobbit, this episode of the KTV cluster really shows a lack of understanding of the imperfect human condition and what drives people to do what they do. And yes, it would have been quite hilarious, if not for the serious public health consequences that had arisen from it.

It’s gotten so bizarre that on 25 July 2021 (“Group wants tougher penalties for errant nightline operators”), The Straits Times (ST) reported that “the Singapore Nightlife Business Association (SNBA) also recommended that the 400 nightlife establishments that switched to the food and beverage sector last October come under police supervision”.

This is the first time in a long time in super-safe Singapore that anyone or any organisation has volunteered to come under police supervision. The only folks we run towards here, regardless of race, language or religion, are the parking ticket aunties and uncles who are about to issue a parking ticket to your vehicle. We usually run away from police supervision, not towards it.

OK, so much for the light-hearted stuff. We move on to something more serious and saddening.

On 17 July 21, a letter to the Forum of The Straits Times by a Ms Denise Ho said that her hospitalisation insurance claim for stage 2 breast cancer treatment and claim for critical illness payout were rejected on the grounds that she had failed to report she had vertigo and asthma. These diagnoses were purportedly made after she made visits to a GP for dizziness and cough.

On 26 Jul 21, the Life Insurance Association (LIA) responded by giving by what can be described as a legally correct and general answer. The reply did not comment specifically on the case at hand, but gave the general principle that “in order to reject a claim or invalidate a policy, life insurance companies are responsible for proving that the non-disclosure of the health condition to a question asked in the application form is material to the underwriting outcome…”

LIA also said a person could seek redress with the Financial Industry Disputes Resolution Centre (FIDREC), and finally an aggrieved person can also explore legal action.

On 29 Jul 21, a letter from Mr Chia Boon Teck to the same ST Forum revealed important information. Apparently FIDREC does not allow for involvement by lawyers and “has a claims cap of only $100,000”. So for higher claims, the policyholder has to get legal help, which Mr Chia rightly pointed out, “victims in such scenarios would hardly have any money for their medical treatment, let alone for legal expenses”. Ouch.

Now the LIA reply took pains to say it “is not in a position to comment on any assessments by any specific insurer”, this hobbit is not bound by such self-imposed and convenient rhetorical handcuffs and mufflers of the LIA.

Interestingly, up till now, the relevant regulatory authorities have also kept silent on this matter.

Let’s now really examine the case at hand – breast cancer with a possible history of vertigo and asthma.

Anyone who is medically trained will wonder what has vertigo and asthma got to do with breast cancer. But according to the reply by LIA, the key words are “underwriting outcome”, which means anything that would have altered the insurance policy’s terms, such as loading of insurance premiums or limitation of coverage may allow the insurance company to “reject a claim or invalidate a policy”. This is evidenced by what LIA’s stated condition: – “the terms of the policy would have been different from the terms that were actually offered and issued”.

So while vertigo and asthma have got nothing to do with breast cancer, the fact that these conditions may lead to different terms of the policy from the terms that were actually offered and issued already entitles and justifies an insurance company’s action to deny a claim for breast cancer.

To this hobbit, this is the legally correct but amoral world that policyholders and healthcare providers have to contend with when we deal with insurance companies. It is effectively heaping misery upon misery on a sick person. It is bad enough to have cancer, but the policyholder has to now also contend with the shock and dismay of knowing the hospitalisation insurance policy is not providing coverage because of a technical breach of a contract and face the terrible consequences of this reality.

As a wise dwarven lord told me once, “Always look for the money trail”. On 2 Aug 21, Business Times (“Claims management measures help boost Integrated Shield 2020 results”) reported that Integrated Shield Plans (IP) insurers performed much better in 2020 than 2019. In fact, in 2019, only two (out of seven) IP insurers were profitable, in 2020, all but two insurers were profitable. In 2019, the seven IP insurers incurred an underwriting loss of $43.11M; in 2020, the same insurers made an underwriting profit of $103.75M, a swing of $146.86M!

The most impressive performance was put in by Great Eastern (GE), which went from losing 57.88M to making a profit of $23.29M, a swing of 81.27M. It also somehow managed to cut its management expenses from $33M to $22M from 2019 to 2020.

But let us briefly return to the KTV club sector again. Many KTV hostesses are poor young foreign women who may be brought here to be exploited as hostesses. That in itself is immoral. But many are also here of their own volition to earn a quick and big buck. In which case, other than the fact that there is a lot of negative stigmatisation, everyone gets what they want – the KTV hostess and operator gets paid by the client and in turn the client gets what he wants – varying degrees of physical (maybe carnal even) and emotional satisfaction.

Contrast this to the insurance industry. This industry is ostensibly here to serve their policyholders. But in so-called serving their policyholders, they have elaborate systems, contracts and processes designed to deny certain policyholders what they have actually paid for and now need. It appears they do so by relying on technicalities that few laymen would understand when they bought the policies. The interesting thing is, these insurance companies’ practices are probably deemed acceptable by the authorities, which is why no relevant regulatory authority has yet commented on the abovementioned series of letters in the ST Forum.

If you asked this hobbit, maybe the insurance industry should be the one that comes under police supervision instead of the nightlife sector.

Life can be legal, and also not fair. Get used to it

Happy 56th National Day

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