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ISSUED 9/12/2007 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

INSURANCE DEPARTMENT ESTABLISHES ELDER PROTECTION UNIT

Superintendent Eric Dinallo today announced the formation of the New York State Insurance Department Elder Protection Unit. The Unit will provide support and protection for the elderly in dealing with insurance and related concerns.

“Job one is to protect consumers, and the elderly are among the most vulnerable,” said Dinallo. “We have established this Unit because we have seen a growing number of complex insurance issues directly affecting seniors and a growing number of complaints. Seniors must navigate an array of insurance offerings, including an expanding life settlement industry, Medicare Advantage and supplemental plans, long term care insurance and community care residential centers.”

Dinallo cited reports of unfair and deceptive sales practices resulting in seniors being sold insurance products they do not fully understand as one reason for forming the Unit: “Assisted living coverage, the suitability of products for seniors and deceptive marketing practices with both life insurance and annuities are among the areas of prime concern to the Department. We will relentlessly pursue any agent, broker or insurer who engages in deceptive or illegal practices against New York’s seniors. We will work to educate consumers on the many options available to them and the challenges those may offer.”

The Unit will be comprised of employees assigned from the Department’s Consumer Services, Health, Life and Property Bureaus who will develop, coordinate and implement initiatives to protect New York’s senior citizens in the purchase, servicing and claim processing of insurance products.

The Unit will also work closely with the New York State Office for the Aging and other organizations representing senior citizens. Michael J. Burgess, Director of the State Office for the Aging stated, “The coordinated approach proposed by Superintendent Dinallo will increase protections for New York’s elderly population against predatory sales practices of unscrupulous insurers, brokers and agents who prey on the vulnerability of senior citizens.”

The New York chapter of the AARP welcomed the Unit’s formation. “AARP commends Superintendent Dinallo on the creation of the New York State Insurance Department Elder Protection Unit,” said Lois Aronstein, AARP New York state director. “It is unfortunate that in our society older persons can become the targets of deceptive practices. The creation of this unit will go a long way towards protecting vulnerable New Yorkers.”

The Elder Protection Unit will, among other things:

  • Set standards for insurers, agents and brokers in the sale and servicing of insurance products for senior citizens;
  • Notify insurers that they must take into account the special needs of senior citizens in their marketing, sales, servicing and claims practices and procedures;
  • Initiate studies, investigations and special examinations to ensure that New York’s insurance marketplace serves the needs of its senior citizens;
  • Formulate legislative and regulatory proposals, including increased fines for violations affecting senior citizens;
  • Provide important insurance information and advice to senior citizens through outreach sessions, public events and meetings with organizations and individuals;
  • Expand the Department’s “Senior Citizens Insurance Resource Center” website (www.ins.state.ny.us/cseniors.htm) to include information and resources regarding deceptive or illegal sales practices by insurers, brokers and agents and other information;
  • Work closely with the State Office for the Aging and other organizations to educate consumers on what to look for when purchasing Medicare Supplemental insurance, other Medicare products, long term care insurance, life insurance and annuities available to senior citizens.
  • Provide training to counselors at the Health Insurance Information, Counseling & Assistance Program (HIICAP), a program of the Office for Aging, including updates on laws, regulations and new products being sold by insurers;
  • Step up examinations of those agents and brokers who specialize in the sale of senior insurance products such as Medicare Advantage, Medicare Supplement Insurance, long term care insurance, life insurance and annuities available to senior citizens; and
  • When warranted, recommend disciplinary action in the form of monetary fines or revocation of licenses.

    The Elder Protection Unit will build on the past efforts of the Department to investigate deceptive and illegal sales practices against senior citizens by insurers, brokers and agents. For example, the Department has fined several insurance agents and brokers for misleading sales practices when selling insurance to seniors. Currently, the Department has a number of pending investigations of agents and brokers that involve senior issues.

    The Department has also updated its consumer complaint tracking system to identify and monitor complaints from seniors or their representatives. This system will enable the Unit to spot trends in the marketplace, identify systemic problems in the industry and conduct real time examinations of insurers, brokers and agents who engage in unfair or illegal sales practices.

    Seniors and other consumers may contact the Insurance Department by calling a toll free helpline at 1-800-342-3736.

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