Barry Saunders

How can insurance execs survive if we keep cutting their bonuses? – Saunders

No one was ever going to think insurance company business practices were drawn up by Mother Teresa and Bishop Tutu, but who knew they’d stoop this low?

Deny life-saving surgery?

Just business, pal. Nothing personal.

Raise premiums to astronomical levels?

It’s what the law allows.

Cut the bonuses it pays to top executives by $300,000 in one year?

Say what? Now, that’s one toke over the line, Sweet Jesus.

You, as am I, are no doubt distraught that Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina CEO Brad Wilson saw his bonus from the insurance behemoth drop from $2.3 million in 2015 to a paltry $1.9 million last year. His total compensation for that period plunged from $3.8 million to $3.5 million.

Depravity, that’s what it is.

Many of you may be thinking “Hey, I could scrape by on $3.5 million per year.”

Sure, if you’re satisfied eating regular old T-bones, foie gras and filet mignons every night like some palate-impaired pauper.

If, however, your taste buds are more refined – like, say, you only eat Matsusaka beef from Heineken-infused cows that have been sung lullabies by Placido Domingo – that extra $300,000 would make a difference.

Imagine, too, that you had your eye on a Monet or were saving up for that cute little island in the Caribbean where Muffy and you vacationed after seeing it listed in the Robb Report. Not familiar with the Robb Report magazine?

It’s the one that should be subtitled “The Magazine for People with Too Much Money But Who Don’t Need Another $400,000 Watch.”

See what I mean: a hundred thousand here, a hundred thousand there – and pretty soon you’re talking real money.

CEO Wilson isn’t the only one being punished by the board’s penuriousness.

Gerald Petkau, BS’s chief operating officer, may have to adjust the size of the island to which he plans to retire, as well. His bonus of just over $1 million was $140,000 less than it was the previous year. He made just under $2 million for the year. Don’t be surprised, then, if Blue Cross execs are trampling you the next time you hear “Attention, Kmart shoppers” and see that blue light.

Some people – mainly those who’ve never had to pay for a Bentley oil change – think those compensation packages are excessive, especially given the snafu that beset Blue Cross last year.

As reported in the N&O, a technology fiasco caused customers to be undeservedly dropped from coverage, assigned the wrong coverage and double-billed. The North Carolina Department of Insurance fined Blue Cross $3.6 million, a record amount.

In recent months, I’ve written two columns about a woman who was convicted of receiving insurance benefits for her “sickly” 10-year-old daughter, benefits to which she was later deemed unentitled. She received a suspended prison sentence, but she’s still doing time because no one will hire an ex-con. She was offered a job by Blue Cross, she said, but the company withdrew the offer after – get this – finding out about her past.

The vitriol from readers directed at her child and her broke my heart. One wretched human being even went online and found – and then listed – every offense for which she was ever charged. That woman seeking help for her daughter, some readers contended, is why we can’t have nice things, why insurance premiums are being catapulted into the stratosphere.

The executive bonuses have elicited no commensurate outcries, at least none I’ve heard.

I asked Brendan Riley, a policy analyst for the N.C. Justice Center, if the bonuses have a direct impact on customers’ premiums or if it just looked bad.

“Under the Affordable Care Act, there is a rule that requires insurance companies to put a majority of premium dollars toward the actual cost of health care,” he said. “The costs that are included in that percentage could include things like salary, marketing, administrative and overhead costs. So they absolutely do and can contribute to the premium costs that consumers see.

“Under the ACA,” he said, “there’s a limit to what they can spend, but given the conversation (occurring) at the federal level, it’s hard to know if those protections will remain.”

Oh happy day! That means that soon there may be no limit to the compensation insurance executives can receive. Aren’t you delighted?

So am I. In the meantime, though, Blue Cross executives Wilson and Petkau are being unnecessarily deprived for inconveniencing customers. As a humanitarian, I propose that we start a Gofundme page to ensure that they get back the money the board took from them. Those insurance companies have to learn they can’t treat the little people any kind of way.

After all, Placido Domingo ain’t cheap, baby, and there are some cows that need to be sung to. So what if Granny has to put snuff spit on that open sore because she can’t afford treatment.

Barry Saunders: 919-836-2811, @BarrySaunders9