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Make Mine Mantlo

I don’t usually like to write editorials that reference content appearing elsewhere in the issue, but for all rules, there are exceptions, and this is one of them. Starting on page. 14 (of our print edition, anyway) is “Tragic Tale,” a feature written by yours truly, and one that is very likely to be one of the longest pieces of journalism National Underwriter has ever produced. it is the story about a comic book writer named Bill Mantlo who had a great career with Marvel Comics, writing for almost every title Marvel put out. Then he switched careers and became a public defender, which he also excelled at. But then he was nearly killed in a...well, I’ll let you find out for yourself.

The reason why I’m bringing this up is because the article itself throws a fair bit of criticism toward a prominent health insurance company (and an advertiser, it must be noted) in how it handled Mantlo’s case. but the criticism goes beyond that and takes a hard look at how the health insurance industry operates. Even beyond that, there seem to be some fundamental questions about how healthcare is structured from the ground up. Indeed, there are too many people to count whose lives are saved and made better by the kinds of medical care made possible through our modern healthcare system, regardless of how the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will end up changing it. But there are serious disconnects within the system, too, disconnects that have given rise to a pretty condemning narrative being told by policyholders amongst themselves. It is being told by industry professionals after they leave the industry. It is being told by media types who sense a compelling story (that’s where I come in). And it’s being told by politicians who are either genuine crusaders trying to fix something they feel is out of whack, or who are opportunistic patrons looking to score easy points by harshing on insurance folks.

I can speak best to the media side of this equation, obviously. The Mantlo story is one I began to pursue out of a personal interest in comics and in Mantlo as a writer. I had heard he had health problems and that his fans were trying to raise money for him. I thought, wait, what about health insurance? Doesn’t this guy have any? And the more I looked, the more I couldn’t stop looking. That’s what happens with these kinds of stories sometimes. You just follow where it takes you. And as far as reporting on the health insurance industry goes, where this story took me was someplace not very nice.

I take no pleasure writing things that may make certain companies look bad. But we do owe it to ourselves and to those we serve to ask hard questions and to not flinch from the answers, especially in a business that directly impacts people’s lives and well-being. If I have one criticism of this industry, it is that it seems to tell itself only what it wants to hear sometimes. A great friend is one who will tell you even what you don’t want to hear. National Underwriter is that kind of friend to this industry. We will call things out when something appears to have gone horribly awry. But we will also stand in defense of the industry when it is being unfairly put upon, also. That is only fair, and this industry deserves nothing less. Thanks for reading. And let us know what you think.

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