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MetLife's costly customer-service lesson

Richard Vladovic

What happens when you combine the mentalities of "All politics is local" and Yelp?

If you're the Los Angeles Unified School District, you get a healthcare toothache.

As The Times reported Monday:

A Los Angeles school board member persuaded his colleagues to kill a multimillion-dollar contract with an insurance company last week after he claimed he was wrongly billed and then received lousy customer service.

In the blue corner we have MetLife, one of two dental insurance providers for the LAUSD that covers about 100,000 current or former district employees.

In the red corner, disgruntled board member Richard Vladovic.

The dispute, in a nutshell:

Vladovic, apparently, grinds his teeth. His dentist prescribed a mouth guard. MetLife paid for some but not all of the cost.

Nothing out of the ordinary so far.  But then the fun began -- or, as someone may be saying at MetLife about now, "Snoopy, we have a problem."

Vladovic said he got a letter from MetLife several months later, saying that it had overpaid the dentist and was going to take the amount out of his deductible. When Vladovic called to complain, he said, he was bounced between offices in New York and California. When he finally reached a representative, the man refused to tell Vladovic his full name and hung up on the two-term school board member.

Imagine that. An insurance company messes up. You owe more. And, oh, by the way, take your complaint and file it where …

It's exactly why Republicans want to keep government out of healthcare -– because the system runs so smoothly just the way it is.

However, in this case, Snoopy, er, MetLife, picked a fight with the wrong dog.

"When I see an injustice I have to bring it up," Vladovic said.

Vladovic told the story at last week's board meeting, and apparently was so convincing that three other board members voted with him against the contract, a move that could disrupt the dental coverage for thousands of L.A. Unified staff members.

Frankly, I find it refreshing that a school board member gets the same healthcare coverage as everyone else -– and, apparently, the same iffy customer service.

And I suspect that our national lawmakers might take a harder look at healthcare if they endured what we ordinary folk do.

Yes, yes, I know, there's a concern that the district doesn't have a replacement for MetLife, and it's nearly time to sign up for healthcare, and this decision limits the choices of people in the system.

But, heck, who doesn't identify with Vladovic? From airlines, to cellphone carriers, to health insurance, to, well, you name it, "the customer is always right" seems terribly old-fashioned these days.

And, after all, Vladovic's mood reflects American politics on both sides of the aisle today. 

As Howard Beale said so memorably in the movie "Network": "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!"

RELATED:

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California needs to be able to regulate health insurance premiums

-- Paul Whitefield

Photo: L.A. Unified board member Richard Vladovic. Credit: Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times  

 

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