State insurance regulators yesterday joined a national class-action settlement in which Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. has agreed to pay more than $150 million to settle charges that it discriminated against nonwhite customers over a 71-year period.
The state Division of Insurance said $4.8 million has been set aside by New York-based Metropolitan Life to cover claims in Massachusetts.
The division said the settlement affects 2,500 existing Metropolitan policyholders here and possibly thousands of other individuals who have died and whose heirs and beneficiaries may be eligible for restitution.
The case is one of several across the nation in which insurance companies have been accused of issuing life insurance policies to nonwhites that carried higher premiums and paid less in benefits. In some cases, the nonwhite customers were required to undergo medical exams that white customers were not required to undergo.
While agreeing to the terms of the settlement, Metropolitan Life has denied any wrongdoing.
The initial lawsuit against Metropolitan Life was filed by black policyholders, who reached a tentative agreement with the insurance company in December. Following an investigation by the New York State Insurance Department, the settlement was expanded to include more money and to cover policies dating to 1901.
Most of the race-based policies sold by Metropolitan Life from 1901 until 1972 were sold door-to-door and were generally for small amounts.
Details on the specific policies covered by the settlement can be obtained at www.lifesettle.com, by calling the Massachusetts Division of Insurance at 617-521-7777, or by calling the settlement administrator at 800-960-2381.
According to the Web site, Metropolitan Life customers with existing policies will either receive increased benefits or a lower amount of cash.
”People whose policies already paid a death or maturity benefit will get cash. Most people whose policies terminated for other reasons will get five years of free death benefit coverage, and some of them will get cash,” the Web site said.
The settlement is subject to a judge’s final approval in February.
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