In dire pre-need

When people ask me if there’s a bright spot in this whole debacle involving educational plans, I readily tell them there is. And it is this: At least, the calls have stopped.

I think I speak for newlyweds and couples under 40 all over the country when I say that since the pre-need companies College Assurance Plan (CAP) and Pacific Plans went belly up, there has been relative peace and quiet. The phones have stopped ringing about a “business opportunity” involving “the future of your children.”

And we’re loving it.

It had become quite a challenge avoiding those pre-need agents. They’re usually friends or relatives (or friends of friends or relatives, and their relatives and friends), and they’re the first to know about a recent birth, a pregnancy or – the earlier birds among them, at least – a wedding.

“Congratulations and Best Wishes. You might be interested in a business opportunity involving the future of that zygote that’s likely to develop tonight, if it has not already.”

And it’s usually tricky trying to talk your way out of it. You try to tell them you don’t really need an educational plan right now, you’re practicing birth control, say. But then they give you this condescending smile, this shaking of the head, as if to say they heard that before, from people who thought they didn’t need any, and look what diploma mills their children are attending now.

And if you ever made the mistake of bringing your baby to the mall, that’s pre-need hell. “Oh, what a cute baby! How old is she, five, six months?” You know, of course, that your friend isn’t really interested to know what developmental stage your daughter is in, or the peculiar parenting challenges that come with it. In his or her head (or at least in that clear book he or she is carrying), there’s an actuarially determined equivalent in premiums, in pesos and centavos.

It had gotten so bad that I had this retort in my head if I smelled a pre-need agent’s ulterior motive in asking my child’s age. “She’s on her sixth month. And I’m glad, because she’s developing sensory-motor skills already. And she’s getting so good at it that I’m thinking of sending her to vocational school after high school.”

I wonder what happened to these pre-need firms. Of the 91 that the Securities and Exchange Commission registered since 1978, half had ceased operations by 2002. Maybe they were too focused on the “pre-need” part of their business that they altogether forgot that – post-need – they would have to pay up.

What do they tell plan holders? “Well, it was a plan. And, as you know, in life, plans don’t always…”?

Or: “Well, you learned your lesson. You can’t say it wasn’t a very educational plan.”

And what about the owners and officers of these pre-need companies? Do they go to hell? Or are they covered by some pre-need memorial plan that guarantees to get them straight to heaven?

SunStar Cebu
5 May 2005

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