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CA Department of Insurance

Multimillion dollar Death Master settlements reached

News: 2015 Press Release

For Release: December 17, 2015
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Multimillion dollar Death Master settlements reached
Two more insurers reform business practices to benefit policyholders

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones today announced multi-million dollar settlement agreements with Jackson National and Axa related to use of the Social Security Administration's Death Master File database.

Jackson National will pay $2.5 million and Axa $3.28 million to the states participating in the national investigation. Both insurers agreed to reform their business practices and use the database to search for policyholder beneficiaries that might be owed benefits from a life insurance policy. "Jackson National and Axa have stepped up and done the right thing for policyholders," said Commissioner Jones. "I urge other life insurers to follow the lead of the 22 other companies that have agreed to use the Death Master File database to search for life insurance policyholders."

Created by the Social Security Administration, the Death Master File database provides insurers with the names of deceased people with social security numbers. It is a useful tool for insurers to identify policyholders whose beneficiaries have not filed claims-most often because they were unaware that the deceased had the policy naming them beneficiary. Until recently most insurers only used the database to identify deceased annuity holders in order to stop making annuity payments, not to identify deceased policyholders in order to pay life insurance benefits. Now, life insurers representing over 73 percent of the market have agreed to reform their practices and search for deceased policyholders in order to pay benefits to their beneficiaries.

A national investigation by state insurance commissioners led to life insurers returning more than $1 billion to beneficiaries nationwide. In addition to the investigation, Commissioner Jones is chairing a National Association of Insurance Commissioners' sub-group currently drafting a model law that would require all life insurers to use the Death Master File database to identify deceased policyholders in order to facilitate payment of benefits to their beneficiaries.

Jackson National and Axa have agreed to compare all company records against the Death Master database to determine whether there are unclaimed death benefits and conduct a thorough search for beneficiaries to whom unclaimed benefits may be owed.

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Media Notes:

  • To date, a total of 22 life insurers have agreed to reforms in using the Death Master database to search for deceased policyholders and make payments to their beneficiaries.
  • To date, over 73 percent of the life insurance market by premium volume has either agreed to comply with the law through settlements or been found in compliance.
  • Insurance Commissioners for California, North Dakota, Florida, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania, are leading the national investigation of life insurers to ensure compliance with California's Unfair Insurance Practices Act and similar laws in other states. California managed the market conduct examination of Jackson National and Pennsylvania managed the exam of Axa, each with assistance from the other lead states.
  • Link to Jackson National settlement.
  • Link to Axa settlement.

The California Department of Insurance, established in 1868, is the largest consumer protection agency in California. Insurers collect $310 billion in premiums annually in California. Since 2011 the California Department of Insurance received more than 1,000,000 calls from consumers and helped recover over $469 million in claims and premiums. Please visit the Department of Insurance website at Non-media inquiries should be directed to the Consumer Hotline at 800.927.4357. Telecommunications Devices for the Deaf (TDD), please dial 800.482.4833.

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