A frequent topic of discussion that I have with my friend Doug is disgust at businesses whose primary source of income is taking advantage of people who are already at a financial disadvantage and who suffer the most from their profiteering. We both get pretty disgusted at the legalized bottom feeders. In one of the wealthiest countries on the planet these businesses seem designed to keep a fair percentage of the population struggling from one paycheck to the next. No room to breath, no room to grow, no way out.
One example of this is check cashing businesses, especially ones that offer 'payday advance' programs that boil down to legalized extortion. The mob never had it this good, and these people don't even have to break legs! Another one is the 'reverse mortgage', where you borrow against the value of your home but don't have to repay it or make payments until the house is sold. Instead of just earning a fixed interest rate, they also ding you for the full appreciation of the property during the duration of the loan. You've essentially sold out any future value increases in your home. It's just another way to get around the few usery laws still in effect.
So, what brings this up today? A lovely bit in the News of the Weird about a company that thought they would make a fortune out of bottom feeding, and are now trying to pressure a customer out of their agreements. Here is the specific entry from the 2006/04/30 issue of News of the Weird:
A Philadelphia woman who identified herself to reporters as "M. Smith" and who contracted AIDS and cancer more than 15 years ago, said recently that the company Life Partners has been threatening to back out of its contract to pay her health and life insurance premiums. She entered into a "viatical" contract in 1994, signing over her insurance death benefit to Life Partners in exchange for its promise to pay all premiums for her then-expectedly-short life. However, a new generation of drugs has kept her alive, rendering Life Partners quite unhappy with the deal it made. Although the company has not yet reneged on the contract, M. Smith reports that it constantly pressures her to begin paying the increasingly steep premiums herself. [CNN, 4-4-06]
Fifteen years ago AIDS was still mysterious, and the prognosis for someone diagnosed with AIDS was clear and simple: Death. Besides the eventual fatal conclusion of the diesease, people diagnosed with AIDS fifteen years ago often lost their jobs and were otherwise stigmatized due to the media hyped fear of this disease. Life Partners, which should have more honestly chosen the name Vultures Incorporated, was born to 'come to the rescue' of people diagnosed with AIDS, and often in financial straits due to poor aceptance of AIDS employees in the workplace, by offering to keep their health insurance paid in return for being made the beneficiary of the patient's life insurance policy. Life Partners expected a fairly quick and profitable turnaround on their investment. While I am sure that their service did provide comfort to a lot of people who were terrified by the circumstances they found themselves in, their recent attempts to extract themselves from contracts with people who have 'lived too long' is what makes them a true bottom feeder.