As the world tiptoes around the throbbing landmine of World War III and everyone wonders what batsoup actually tastes like and if you’re meant to put croutons in it, or if COVID-19 was invented in a lab in China, or if Gary Lineker was invented in a lab in Cambridgeshire (and is there – please – an antidote), what lessons might there be for the health insurance & protection industry here in the UK?
Watch out. Here come the experts…
In case you missed it, in recent weeks the World Health Organisation (WHO) and China have been dishing out drivel about the Coronavirus Comedy, while US President Trump has been slammed, inevitably, for getting a bit upset at their catalogue of cock-ups.
The President’s stellar, withering assault in recent weeks on China’s role in the scale, spread and sharing (or lack) of information about COVID-19 has been, predictably, rebuffed by the usual suspects.
Apparently, the President’s contribution has been an unhelpful, myopic contribution to a globally calamitous inferno that any leader – even one as, erm, single-minded as him – can’t extinguish overnight.
Some of those usual suspects have also, equally predictably, levelled absurd charges of sinosphobia against President Trump. Claims that it originated from bats in wet markets in China are, apparently, raaaacist. Shhh. Don’t even think about saying it’s all batshhh…
They and others have also rounded on the US President for pulling funding from the WHO.
But has the behaviour of the US President towards the WHO been any more unreasonable than that organisation’s own myopic refusal to get tough on China’s adamantine attitude to Taiwan – a country of 24 million people whose impressive handling of the COVID-19 crisis has been matched only by the WHO’s equally jaw-droppingly, supine enthral to Beijing and its slightly, erm, less adequate response to and role in this whole crisis? Or its “activities” a few miles away in Hong Kong?
In contrast to the many reports around Taiwan’s impressive response to COVID-19 stands the wretched way in which Beijing has stifled constructive efforts to make Taipei’s voice heard at the WHO.
And in spite of having a population of 24 million, Taiwan still does not have a seat at the WHO. Beijing refuses to acknowledge its existence as an independent nation and as such its voice can’t be heard.
Efforts to benefit from Taiwan’s experience didn’t make it into the WHO chamber and, as a result, the experts at the WHO gave the world less than, erm, expert advice.
And yet the health insurance and protection industry in the UK, thousands of miles away from that diplomatic, erm, difference of opinion, bows down to the almighty WHO not just on COVID-19, but on pretty much everything else too.
When the world needed something from the WHO when COVID-19 came calling – it didn’t get it.
But then again, that’s the same WHO which – being made up of a broad range of nations with different attitudes to societal “norms” – did helpfully keep coming up with, until 1990, the deranged concept and classification of homosexuality as a “mental illness”.
In some member countries of the WHO, homosexuality is still classed as a “mental illness”. Not China, though, which decided that it wasn’t all the way back in, erm, 2001.
That’s the same WHO which – again, being made up of a broad range of nations with different attitudes to societal “norms” – decided in 2018 that it would stop classifying individuals who say they are transgender as having a mental disorder.
In China, saying that you are a different gender is still classed as a mental disorder. Hell, I don’t know. I’m not a quack. It might be.
But, look, it’s 2020, last time I checked, and so as long as it doesn’t affect pre-pubescent teens, then who cares?
In any case, WHO said that it was or wasn’t in the first place? WHO are these people? Why should they make these god-like decisions that apply to all people in all countries? On whose orders? And why should individuals or companies in the UK have to adhere to its decrees if our understanding or values run counter to them?
It’s the same WHO which last year included “burn-out” and “gaming disorder” in its 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) – the accepted global bible of health and illness that makes critical illness contracts look like primary school books – while at the same time confusing anyone that actually read the document with its ruling that they are “not medical conditions”.
I don’t know if they are medical conditions or not. I’d say probably not – and a pretty sound trio of pathologist, cardiac surgeon and virologist I spoke to recently agreed.
But they might be wrong.
Maybe the WHO is right to say that, for example, “burn-out”, although included in the International Classification of Diseases, is neither a disease nor a medical condition.
Maybe the WHO is right to say it should be “classified” as an “occupational phenomenon”.
Maybe it makes sense that in addition to disorders, diseases and illnesses, we have unscientific but scientifically classifiable “phenomena”.
Maybe we need a new intrantional quango: “The World Organisation of Occupational Phenomena” (WOOP?).
WOOP! Another quango! Sign me up – I might get a free trip to a boring hotel somewhere hot and boring to write a boring article about a boring conference speech about the same as last year.
Organisations that are the breadth and scale of the WHO – with all their different nations and their political tensions, vested interests and the rest – are often able, remarkably, to make sensible decisions without political interference that keep the world from, just about, imploding.
But our rush today to medicalise behaviours and our desperation for “experts” to fix our completely natural human or societal emotions and behaviours mean that individuals and companies turn to organisations like the WHO as some kind of independent, wholly benevolent, source of ultimate, unquestionable wisdom that can “fix” things.
Problems are then inevitable, especially when it comes to insurers and healthcare funders being asked to pay for treatment for conditions or behaviour that have no clinical classification – or that aren’t a “medical condition” or a “disease”.
If homosexuality or transgenderism were still to be classed as “illnesses” – as some WHO members do – but “burn-out” is classed as an “occupational phenomenon”, what should a medical insurer fund as “treatment”? Should it be mandatory? Should the State step in because we’ve all turned into infants and nanny knows best?
A number of insurers in the UK have been citing the WHO’s registration of “burn-out” as a scientific, evidence-based fact of life.
That’s obviously bonkers.
But does that mean everything else that the WHO decides is a fact of life?
That then leaves the question of how health and protection insurers should deal with issues including “burn-out” “gaming addiction”, given that the WHO issues “globally” agreed decrees, standards and “facts” that have been invented by “experts” and that are deeply political and often the source of intense dispute, both scientifically and morally.
Shall we stick “burn-out” or “gaming addiction” or – in some WHO members’ lexicon “homosexuality” – on the already-bonkers list of critical illness conditions?
I’ll ask the Association of British Insurers and get back to you.
In the meantime, it’s clear that COVID-19 has brought this, like many other things, into sharp focus.
Coronavirus might not care about borders or politics.
But, no matter how much we look to “international experts” to give us some kind of reassurance or succour, us mortals do care about borders and politics – and we always will.
Yet as the current crisis rumbles on and once it is over, health and insurance protection providers – in the main – will still be hiding behind the “we refer you to the independent experts” line.
It’s cowardly. Health and protection insurance should be for free-thinking, independent-minded, self-sufficient individuals and companies – and we’ll look after others too.
The health insurance and protection industry should bristle against the tendency to turn to the likes of the WHO or the EU – and, yes, even the NHS – to tell it what to do.
And if China is calling the shots – remember, it decided that homosexuality is not a mental illness only in 2001 and still believes transgenderism is a sickness – at the WHO, I’ll take my chances on deciding whether burn-out is a “medical condition” or an “occupational phenomenon”.
Or even just the inevitable result of working too hard while juggling personal life and the sometimes knackering stresses and strains of being human.
Then again, I might just be burnt-out myself.
Or probably just plain batshit crazy.