Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Utah benefits startup caught in controversy over "free content"


The Utah insurance commissioner has penalized a startup, Zenefits, for offering free access to a portion of its website that offers health (and probably life) insurance as an employee benefit.  Presumably employees and employers could avoid dealing with agents who operate in a more conventional way.
  
Regulators say that it is against Utah law to offer “inducements” to purchase insurance.  So apparently it would be legal in Utah for employees to work only through their employer’s human resources to purchase insurance.  I once worked on a salary deduction system for employee insurance benefits in the 1990s, so I know how the process works pretty well (from supporting the system for three years). 
   
There’s another context in which the story is disturbing. A lot of “novices” offer content for “free”, and sometimes older companies look at this as threatening.  There were a few trademark suits over domain names before 2000 from companies that had not yet set up their own websites to grab the domain names.  They weren’t with it enough to do this. News business and media may feel some pressure from “amateur” bloggers who get stores before they do.  Movie studios could feel undercut by indie films with no budgets, as much as they are hurt by piracy.  But in the movie industry, there are actual SAG rules that control how actors work in lower budget films. 
   
The Utah news story by Timothy B Lee is on Vox, here. Vox, as I’ve noted, has an interesting approach to “categorizing the news” (especially in its yellow-banner “card stacks”) so that readers are made more aware of lesser understood arguments on controversial or polarizing issues.  

What is in life is still "free"? 

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