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US: Insurer Settles Charges Over Its Sales to Soldiers

by Diana B. HenriquesThe New York Times
August 4th, 2006

The American Amicable Life Insurance Company has agreed to pay up to $70 million to settle state and federal complaints that it used deceptive sales practices to sell unsuitable insurance products to thousands of American service members across the country and on bases overseas.

The company will pay $10 million in cash refunds to 57,000 current and former service members who bought its products after Dec. 31, 1999. The rest of the money represents the potential cost of raising the future cash value of policies sold to 13,000 other military customers and 22,000 civilians, although the final price tag will depend on how many of those policies are held to maturity.

The company, which is based in Waco, Tex., also agreed to a five-year ban from sales on any military base, one of the longest suspensions ever imposed in the military insurance market.

“American Amicable has been working with state and federal authorities for the past two years,” said Mark Palmer, a spokesman for the company, which has neither admitted nor denied any wrongdoing in the case. “Resolving this and moving forward is in the best interests of our customers, our agents and our employees.”

Mr. Palmer said that the global settlement resolved all outstanding issues between the company and an investigative task force that included the Justice Department, the Securities and Exchange Commission and insurance regulators in 41 states, led by two insurance commissioners, John W. Oxendine of Georgia and Mike Geeslin of Texas.

The investigations were begun in mid-2004, after articles in The New York Times documented widespread and longstanding abuses in the sale of insurance, mutual funds and other financial products to young, financially unsophisticated service members.

In an interview before the settlement was announced, Mr. Oxendine said the regulatory cooperation reflected in the global settlement was “almost unique” in his experience. “Both the Justice Department and the S.E.C. really hung tough, so we were able to get a settlement that was considerably better than we could have achieved otherwise,” he said.

The Justice Department’s investigation was directed out of Philadelphia, where the staff of the United States attorney, Patrick L. Meehan, had gained expertise during an earlier military insurance investigation in the late 1990’s.

At the S.E.C., which is not typically involved in insurance investigations, two lawyers, Jina Choi and Jennifer Scafe, focused their attention on the “quasi-investment” aspect of the company’s Horizon Life insurance, the staple of its military sales.

The 20-year term policy combined a very expensive death premium with a slow-growing “savings fund” whose value did not surpass the accumulated premiums on the policy until the last years of its life — by which point, a high percentage of the policies sold to military personnel had long since lapsed, insurance investigators found.

As part of the settlement, the company has agreed to stop selling the Horizon Life product in any market, a step Mr. Palmer said went into effect in mid-July.

Mr. Oxendine acknowledged that there were similar products still offered in the military market by other companies.

“It doesn’t matter which companies are selling the products,” he said. “This settlement sets the bar and we will apply that standard to every company we encounter.”

The full settlement agreement can be found on the Internet at www.gainsurance.org, regulators said. Consumers may also direct questions to the company’s consumer service center at (800) 736-7311.

The American Amicable settlement comes within weeks of two other significant steps in the government’s efforts to address the problems identified by the Times articles, which were subsequently confirmed by Congressional hearings and two investigations by the Government Accountability Office.

On July 10, after more than three years of effort against early resistance from some insurance industry lobbyists, the Pentagon published the final version of its own tougher regulations for on-base financial solicitation, adding them to the military rulebook that governs military bases around the world.

And on July 19, the Senate adopted legislation that would transform many of those new rules into federal law and would also eliminate a form of mutual fund that had become one of the most troublesome products in the military market.

The House has already adopted substantially similar legislation, and legislators said they expected to resolve the differences in the two bills soon.



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