Nationwide Agrees To Settlement Of More Than $150 Million In Unpaid Claims, Payments To Regulators

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Nationwide Financial Services Inc. has agreed to pay more than $150 million to settle a multi-state investigation that questioned whether the life insurer was thorough enough in finding and paying beneficiaries when policyholders die.

The agreement means Nationwide will pay $144.1 million to beneficiaries on 4,747 unclaimed death benefits, and, separately, it will pay $7.2 million to state regulators.

This is the most recent settlement in a much wider probe that netted larger sums from other insurers. For example, MetLife settled in May with Connecticut and 21 other states, agreeing to pay $40 million in penalties and an estimated $438 million to beneficiaries of unpaid policies written more than 50 years ago. The settlement included about $900,000 to Connecticut beneficiaries, state Insurance Commissioner Thomas B. Leonardi said in May.

At issue is whether life insurers are using a federal list of Americans who die, the U.S. Social Security Administration’s Death Master File, to determine prompt payment of life insurance benefits. Life insurers say they pay billions in benefits every year and they go to great lengths to find beneficiaries.

Seven states led the Nationwide investigation: California, Florida, Illinois, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

The settlement agreement is only official when 14 additional state insurance departments sign it. Connecticut plans to be a part of the settlement.

Of the $7.2 million going to state regulators, Connecticut expects about $83,000, based on market share, said Mark Franklin, administrative manager for policy and planning at the state Insurance Department. It is too early to determine how much of the $144 million in unpaid benefits will go to beneficiaries in Connecticut, the department said.

Nationwide Financial spokesman Mike Switzer said in a prepared statement, “As a part of this process, Nationwide has identified and paid approximately $144 million in benefits to life and annuity beneficiaries who had not previously filed claims.”

“After fully cooperating in this process, we look forward to fulfilling the terms of this agreement and moving forward with this matter resolved,” Switzer said.

The settlement requires Nationwide to run the Death Master file, or a similar database, monthly to determine whether life insurance policyholders, annuity owners or holders of retained-asset accounts have dies, according to the California Department of Insurance. If the insurer learns that a policyholder has died, it must search for beneficiaries using all records, online searches and other methods. If Nationwide doesn’t find the beneficiary, it must transfer funds to the appropriate state authority as unclaimed property, according to the California department.

“Nationwide remains committed to finding beneficiaries and pays out approximately one billion dollars annually in life and annuity payments,” Switzer said. “Although not required by law, we proactively use a variety of resources, including the Social Security Death Master File and other online tools, to help us find beneficiaries in all 50 states.”

About Matthew Sturdevant

Full-time staff journalist at The Hartford Courant and magazine freelancer with a master's degree in writing from Dartmouth. My work has appeared in The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune, Taiwan News, The Baltimore Sun and many other news sources. My blog has been referenced by Politico.com, the Kaiser Family Foundation, the Georgetown Law Library and a number of organizations in healthcare and business. Sturdevant’s blog is "a well-written wealth of ideas," said The Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism, (businessjournalism.org, May 18, 2011). I have experience writing for newspapers, magazines, Web sites and blogs as well as shooting and editing video. I made regular appearances on news-talk radio and on the NBC affiliate station in Corpus Christi, Texas. I made occasional appearances on the Fox affiliate in Connecticut promoting Hartford Courant articles.

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