Floridahas become the first U.S. state to enact comprehensive legislation requiringlife insurance companies to search the Social Security Death Master File tofind life insurance beneficiaries.
The newlaw has been touted as a way to make sure policyholders' beneficiaries get lifeinsurance benefits. It provides insurers with a standardized methodology forlocating beneficiaries, according to the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation.
Gov.Rick Scott signed Senate Bill 966 on April 12 after it passed the Floridalegislature unanimously. The new law requires life insurers to compare therecords of life insurance policies to the Death Master File as they seek tofind policy beneficiaries. Florida is the first state to pass a law requiringuse of the Death Master File both going forward and retroactively back to 1992,explained Amy Bogner, a spokeswoman for the FLOIR. Life insurers must activelycheck policies written in the past against names in the file to find out ifthere are any benefits that still need to be paid. They cannot wait untilbeneficiaries contact them.
"Thisis a monumental win for the state of Florida in addressing an inequitableindustrywide claims practice in the life insurance industry that was uncoveredmore than five years ago," Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCartysaid in a press release. He credited the joint efforts of Florida CFO JeffAtwater, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and his own office for returningmore than $500 million to Florida beneficiaries, as well as to the state'sunclaimed property program.
Theundated FLOIR life claims settlement practices web page states that more than$175 million in property has been remitted to the Florida Department ofFinancial Services' Bureau of Unclaimed Property by life insurers as part ofthe?ir?? ?settlement agreements?. Of that total,? more than $53 million ?hassince been claimed by Florida consumers?, it said.?
McCartyhelped lead the multistate examination process coordinated by the NAIC. Thisled to multistate settlements with life insurers over the course of severalyears and multimillion dollar settlements in 2012, the year McCarty was NAICpresident.
Floridahas regulatory settlement agreements with 20 life insurance companies,according to the FLOIR. The regulator noted that parallel settlements withstate controllers and state treasurers require insurers to turn over currentunclaimed benefits to the states. This process has so far resulted in thereturn of more than $5 billion to beneficiaries directly by the companies andmore than $2.4 billion to the states, according to the FLOIR. State efforts toinvestigate life insurers, as well as attempts to have insurers remit unclaimedbenefits to states, are ongoing.
The American Council of Life Insurers said the small numberof claims that are not paid "typically are cases where there are questionsof fraud or where the beneficiary does not know the policy exists." Lifeinsurers pay out nearly $16 million in death benefits to Florida residentsdaily, according to an ACLI statement issued April 12.
The life insurance industry supports model legislationadopted by the National Conference of Insurance Legislators, the organizationsaid. This NCOIL model legislation requires that life insurers periodicallycompare their files with the Death Master File or its equivalent, and, if amatch identifies possibly deceased policyholders whose beneficiaries have notfiled claims, insurers must attempt to locate those beneficiaries and help themwith the claims process, the ACLI explained.
Thetopic could be getting national attention soon. CBS' 60 Minutes program has prepared a new segment on the unclaimedproperty issue thatis expected to air April 17.