"Look for a need," businessman Rob Worley, Sr., often advised his son on starting his own company. So Rob Worley, Jr., listened with attentive ears when a desperate, terminally ill man called Bruce Williams's VoiceNet talk radio program to ask for advice.
The man needed money for medicine, so he had approached his insurance company and some local banks to see if they would give him some cash for his life insurance policy. But federal law prohibited both the insurance companies and banks from doing so.
After 14 years in the insurance business, Worley Jr. could see his opportunity to fulfill a need. He found out that, on average, each insurance company received four calls per week from people who wanted to sell their life insurance policies. Worley told his father, and they both went to work.
Their Albuquerque company, Living Benefits Inc., opened its doors late last year, after three years of research and legal fees. The company pays terminally ill patients cash—55 percent to 70 percent of face value—to be named the beneficiary of their life insurance policies.
Without money from someone like Rob Worley, dying patients with large life insurance policies often have little choice but to let payments lapse in order to cover medical expenses. They thereby forfeit the policies' benefits altogether. And if they do keep up payments, no one can benefit from their precautions until after they die.
Since its inception, Living Benefits has helped about 20 people dying from cancer and AIDS live their last few months more bearably. Some have bought medicine or paid for medical care. Others have gone on dream vacations to Hawaii or Europe.
In January, however, nine insurance companies and New Mexico's insurance commissioner, Ted Knight, threatened to legislate Living Benefits out of business. Worried that the company "has an economic interest in death," as one official with the American Council of Life Insurance put it, these civic crusaders sought to protect life insurance policyholders from predatory profit seekers. Worley eventually won over Knight and the state legislature by showing them the stringent self-regulations to which Living Benefits subjects itself.
The insurance companies are now scurrying to grab a piece of the pie. Many now offer accelerated-death-benefit policies that pay a percentage of face value to those holders who acquire a previously specified illness, are diagnosed as having a terminal illness, or enter a nursing home. All three of the new types of policies cater to previously unrecognized desires. Two years ago a terminally ill patient was simply out of luck.
The established insurance companies had overlooked this need and tried to cover their backsides with legislation. Federal and state governments were all too willing to help.
In this case, however, the consumers held on to their freedom of choice. Rob Worley's father, beaming with pride, says "the customers, of course, think we're the greatest thing since sliced bread."
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Healthy Alternative".