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Florida Insurance Regulator Reaches Agreement with John Hancock

Sep 28, 2011 | Parker Waichman LLP

Florida's ongoing probe into the way life insurance companies handle unpaid death benefits resulted in a settlement with the John Hancock Insurance Company in May.  Among other things, John Hancock agreed to do a better job of identifying policyholders who have died and notifying their beneficiaries that they are due death benefits.

"Companies are using the Death Master File to stop company payments for annuities—but do not use this same list to pay beneficiaries of people who have life insurance policies,” Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty said in a statement issued in May. “Unfortunately, this appears to be a pervasive industry practice. The Office appreciates that John Hancock stepped-up and agreed to change its processes before any other company. The agreement with John Hancock will send a strong signal to other companies to audit and modify their practices.”

The Death Master File is a database used by the U.S. Social Security Administration that lists all American's who die.

Without admitting any wrongdoing, John Hancock agreed to:

•    Pay $3 million to three agencies for settlement -- $600,000 of this settlement has been waived due to the company’s ongoing cooperation.
•    Return monies to beneficiaries, which includes interest payments owed since the date of death.
•    If a beneficiary cannot be identified, the amount due will be reported to the Unclaimed Property Division of the DFS.
•    Establish a $10 million fund to facilitate payment to beneficiaries that cannot be contacted. 
•    Provide quarterly reports to the Office, to the DFS and to the Attorney General for the next three years, updating information specific to Hancock’s implementation of the agreement.

Florida is chair of a multi-state National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) task force investigating life and annuity claims practices. The primary charge of the task force is to coordinate the activities of state insurance regulators in pursuing investigations / settlements regarding possible unfair claims practices. Other states on the task force include California, Iowa, Louisiana, North Dakota, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

In July, it was  revealed that the  New York Attorney General's office subpoenaed nine large insurance companies, including AXA SA, Genworth Financial Inc, Guardian Life Insurance Co of America, Manulife Financial Corp, Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co, MetLife Inc, New York Life Insurance Co, Prudential Financial Inc, and TIAA-CREF as part of a similar investigation.

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