By way of Echidne, I came across this article about WellPoint’s cancellation of insurance policies belonging to women with breast cancer (italics mine):
Shortly after they were diagnosed with breast cancer, each of the women learned that her health insurance had been canceled. There was Yenny Hsu, who lived and worked in Los Angeles. And there was Patricia Reilling, a successful art gallery owner and interior designer from Louisville, Kentucky….
The women paid their premiums on time. Before they fell ill, neither had any problems with their insurance. Initially, they believed their policies had been canceled by mistake.
They had no idea that WellPoint was using a computer algorithm that automatically targeted them and every other policyholder recently diagnosed with breast cancer. The software triggered an immediate fraud investigation, as the company searched for some pretext to drop their policies, according to government regulators and investigators.
Once the women were singled out, they say, the insurer then canceled their policies based on either erroneous or flimsy information….
But WellPoint also has specifically targeted women with breast cancer for aggressive investigation with the intent to cancel their policies, federal investigators told Reuters. The revelation is especially striking for a company whose CEO and president, Angela Braly, has earned plaudits for how her company improved the medical care and treatment of other policyholders with breast cancer.
This wasn’t a computer glitch. People held meetings, made Power Point presentations, wrote memos and emails, organized teams (this can’t have been a one person job), and decided after all of this considerable thought and consideration that denying legitimate, paying customers with cancer was an acceptable thing to do. Then they went home and lived a ‘normal’ life: played with their kids, went out on the town, maybe even went to a school board meeting.
While I’m sure some of these people are stone cold sociopaths or narcissists, most are just masters at suppressing cognitive dissonance. If we assume that most of the people making these decisions are college graduates, and some are business school graduates, this is can only be described as a stunning failure of these institutions to equip their graduates with the philosophical and ethical training to comprehend that what they do is wrong.
Worse, the vaunted ‘free’ market system rewarded these animals for making this decision. Because rewarding sociopathic behavior* is a good organizing principle for a society. When dealing with people like this, who either willfully suppress their humanity or who suffer from a psychological disorder, you don’t try to appeal to the better angels of their nature: they don’t exist. If you must deal with these people, you regulate and circumscribe their activities, and have very strict and direct reward and punishment schemes. Most importantly, they can’t be trusted over the long haul.
*Whether this is clincial antisocial personality disorder or simply massive cognitive dissonance doesn’t really matter: the effect is the same.