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SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT: Sun Sentinel Op-Ed "Let’s stop politician-led money grab"

3/7/2016

Contact: Ashley Carr
(850) 413-2842
SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT
 
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The recent op-ed written by insurance lobbyist Paul Sanford that was published in this weekend’s South Florida Sun Sentinel titled Let’s stop politician-led money grab is riddled with errors and omissions. 
Here are the FACTS.

The Insurance Lobbyist writes: Life insurers honor their commitments and pay benefits that are due, as they have for generations.

FACT: National audits have already uncovered $8 billion in overdue, unpaid life insurance benefits that should have been paid out years ago. Sadly, most life insurance companies have a decades-long practice of only paying benefits that are due when a beneficiary who knows about the policy comes forward with the policy paperwork and the death certificate.

Hundreds of thousands of families are unaware that deceased family members purchased life insurance policies, and because of that, the insurance industry feels those families are out of luck and not entitled to the benefit their loved one spent years paying premiums to put in place. 

The Insurance Lobbyist writes:
In fact, most life insurers in the state and throughout the country provide a new, higher level of service in the claims-paying process that goes beyond the requirements of most state laws. They are cross-matching their records with the Social Security's “death master file,” known as the DMF.

FACT: Not only have the vast majority of companies failed to be proactive in honoring their commitments to pay unclaimed benefits, state audits have found tangible examples of companies failing to pay benefits even when the company had knowledge within their walls that a beneficiary had died. It is this unethical business model of using available technology only when it benefits the company and to the detriment of the consumer that inspired this proposed legislation.

The state has required companies that settled to cross-match records with the Death Master File to aid consumers who didn’t know they were owed get their benefits from insurance companies. The bill requires all companies, even those that haven’t settled, to cross-match their records, which means they will have to pay out millions in overdue, unpaid benefits they’ve been holding onto and earning interest on for years. It all boils down to greed, and many companies don’t want to be held accountable for doing the right thing, so they are aggressively lobbying against this legislation.

A few life insurers, like USAA, have done the right thing and spoken out in favor of the proposed legislation because the company believes that it is the right thing to do.
 
The Insurance Lobbyist writes: Life insurers support the laws and advocate for their adoption in Florida and throughout the country.

FACT: Most life insurers are doing everything they can to keep SB 966 and HB 1041 from becoming law. They have demonstrated that they will only support a version of this legislation that prevents them from having any accountability for paying out life insurance policies that they have previously written; they are willing to change the rules for policies issued only in the future, which will leave thousands of consumers in the dark forever and keep them from ever knowing that they were owed a benefit from a policy purchased by a loved one years ago that was designed to provide some monetary assistance upon their death.
 
A few life insurers, like USAA, have done the right thing and have spoken out in favor of the proposed legislation because the company believes that it is the right thing to do.
 
The Insurance Lobbyist writes: While Florida lawmakers and the Department of Financial Services could have pursued the model legislation 19 states have adopted, they instead are attacking an industry that has well served Florida's families and invested $266 billion in the state and generated 144,000 Florida jobs.

FACT: This so-called “model legislation” was written by the life insurance industry to support the life insurance industry. There are major variations—therefore no uniformity—among the 19 states that have adopted some form of legislation to address how life unclaimed insurance policies should be handled. Life insurers have lobbied diligently in those 19 states to strip all consumer-focused provisions out and replace them with industry-serving legislation, like the so-called model mentioned.

No one is being attacked here. The Legislature knows that hundreds of millions of dollars rightfully due to Florida families have been inappropriately held for years by certain life insurance companies.  In Florida, life insurance companies will be held accountable for fulfilling the promises they have made to their customers.
 
The Insurance Lobbyist writes: Make no mistake — beneficiaries should get every last dollar they deserve.
 
FACT: This is absolutely true: ALL beneficiaries, including those who weren’t aware of their family member’s policy, should get every last dollar they deserve. Florida’s leaders are committed to helping it get there as fast as possible.
 
The Insurance Lobbyist writes: It [the proposed legislation] would speed up the clock on the requirement for companies to transfer unclaimed benefits to the state, effectively requiring swifter payments to the state than to beneficiaries.
 
FACT: The proposed legislation requires insurers to search for and attempt to pay the benefit directly to the designated consumer. So far, thanks to ongoing audits conducted by consumer-oriented states, this practice has resulted in $5 billion nationally being sent directly from the insurers to consumers.

Only if efforts by the insurers are unsuccessful, and the money has been held for 5 years by the insurance company, do they remit payments to the Unclaimed Property Program for the state to take up the task of finding the rightful owner.
 
The Insurance Lobbyist writes: Incredibly, the bills (SB 970/HB 783) before the Legislature repeal current law requiring the department to “make a meaningful and active effort” to restore unclaimed property to claimants.
 
FACT: This is a clear misrepresentation of the facts. The language being referred to here is only being moved to another section of law (717.139 F.S.)  The Department’s obligation to make a meaningful attempt to locate a claimant is also stated in 717.118 F.S.
 
The Insurance Lobbyist writes: The state's record on helping connect people with benefits owed to them is sketchy, at best. The department has been unsuccessful in returning more than half of unclaimed property funds to their rightful owners.

FACT: Florida is nationally recognized by its peers as being among the top unclaimed property programs in the nation. Florida’s proactive efforts to return unclaimed funds are unmatched.
 
The state only receives benefits to return to consumers after the insurance companies have exhausted their efforts. The state gets the hardest of the hard cases to find. Even still, the state has returned more than $53 million to people the insurance companies claimed they could not find.  That’s $53 million more that beneficiaries deserved to get that wouldn’t have gotten to them if the insurance companies had been left to find them.
 
The Insurance Lobbyist writes: When one Florida woman sought to collect the proceeds of unclaimed property held by the department to pay for child support, they made her sue and go all the way to the state Court of Appeals to collect her own money.
 
FACT: The Department lacks statutory authority to release funds to anyone other than the owner, which in this case was not the women who sued.  She was attempting to claim funds as a judgment creditor of her ex-husband.  A judgment creditor is not an owner of unclaimed property.  The court made an exception in law not previously recognized for judgments related to unpaid child support.
 
THE BOTTOM LINE: Efforts underway by your Florida Legislature via SB 966/HB 1041 are honorable and consistent with their efforts to see that Florida consumers are made whole and that insurance companies who make a promise to families and who have been paid by hardworking Florida families are held accountable to fulfill their end of the promise!    Let’s thank the Florida Legislature!

Visit https://www.fltreasurehunt.org to check for accounts that the unclaimed property program may be holding onto for you or your business.

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Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, a statewide elected official, oversees the Department of Financial Services. CFO Atwater’s priorities include fighting financial fraud, abuse and waste in government, reducing government spending and regulatory burdens that chase away businesses, and providing transparency and accountability in spending. Follow the activities of the Department on Facebook (FLDFS) and Twitter (@FLDFS).