Imagine you go into Starbucks and order a tall vanilla latte. The barista mistakenly makes a venti mint mocha, but eventually makes your correct drink. When you go to pay, the cashier wants you to pay for not only the latte, but also the mocha.

Sounds crazy, doesn't it? But that's exactly what health insurance companies like UnitedHealth (NYSE: UNH) and Aetna (NYSE: AET) have been doing for years: paying for doctors' mistakes.

Following Medicare's and more recently Humana's (NYSE: HUM) decision to stop paying for doctors' mistakes, WellPoint (NYSE: WLP) is saying enough is enough, and has decided not to pay for complications from 11 different "preventable adverse events." Lay people would call them "big fat mistakes."

It's pretty laughable that the insurance company was even paying for some of these -- and the resulting complications they cause -- in the first place:

  • Surgery performed on the wrong body part.
  • Object left in the body during surgery.
  • Use of the wrong blood type.

WellPoint says it's making the change to improve patient care at hospitals. I'm not the biggest fan of doctors, but I doubt doctors really need any incentive not to screw up. They do take an oath to do no harm, after all.

While it will save WellPoint, Humana and any other insurers that follow suit a few bucks, one has to hope that these events are so rare that the increase in the bottom line will be minimal.

The real benefit from this shift in policy is the free publicity WellPoint is getting. The company gets to tout the fact that it's on its members side -- we're preventing mistakes from happening and we'll make sure you don't have to pay if they do occur -- at a time when it could use all the help it can get recruiting new members.

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