Nationwide Settles Case Over Misuse of Social Security Death Master File
Nationwide Financial Services, Inc., Columbus, Ohio (Nationwide) has entered into a multi-million dollar settlement with the insurance departments of California, Florida, Illinois, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Ohio for its misuse of the Social Security Death Master File database (DMF).
The DMF is the primary tool by which the life insurance industry determines when annuitants and policyholders have died, serving to notify insurers when lifetime payments can be halted and to notify beneficiaries when death benefits can be paid out.
Nationwide agreed to business reforms that hope to ensure that it expeditiously pays out life insurance, annuity and retained asset account benefits. The company will also pay $7.2 million which will be divided among the state insurance departments.
The settlement, announced by California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones this afternoon, pertains to both Nationwide Life Insurance Company and Nationwide Life and Annuity Insurance Company.
The settlement was developed alongside an agreement with California State Controller John Chiang and stems from the somewhat prevalent practice across the industry of using the DMF only when it suits the company. Legally, insurers should be checking the DMF every three months.
“This settlement is another important step in our effort to reform industry practices regarding the use of the Social Security Death Master File database," said Commissioner Jones. "As other insurers have done, Nationwide selectively used the Death Master File database to cut off payments to annuity holders but did not use that database to identify deceased life insurance policyholders and pay their beneficiaries. This settlement ends that practice. I strongly encourage other insurers to come forward and enter similar agreements. Beneficiaries of deceased policyholders should receive their payments immediately."
Commissioner Jones’ imploration may be effective; prior to Nationwide reaching a settlement, California and other states were able to reach settlements with Prudential for $17 million and MetLife for $40 million.
In a statement Thursday afternoon, Mike Switzer, a Nationwide Financial spokesman said, “Nationwide Financial is pleased to have reached an agreement with the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation and the other states involved in this exam regarding our continued use of the Social Security Death Master File in order to indentify potentially deceased policy holders and initiate the claims process. Nationwide agreed to a $7.2 million settlement for the Market Conduct Exam. As 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.”
Thursday’s settlement becomes effective when 14 additional state insurance departments sign on.