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Making a profit on soldiers' death benefits


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Why are large life insurance companies profiting from billions of dollars they hold on behalf of the families of fallen military service members?

Bloomberg Markets magazine senior writer David Evans posed that question in an article in its September issue. The article, which took a close look at practices at Prudential Financial, has sparked sharp criticism from Cabinet members, reform proposals from U.S. lawmakers, and a fraud investigation by the New York Attorney General.

The U.S. Veterans Affairs Dept. and the National Association of Insurance Commissioners say they are reviewing military life insurance arrangements.

"It's disgraceful on the part of insurance companies," Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), a onetime prisoner-of-war in Vietnam, said in an interview on Bloomberg Television. "We'll obviously have to be looking into it."

Under scrutiny are so-called retained-asset accounts. More than 100 carriers use the accounts to earn income on $28 billion owed to beneficiaries. New York-based MetLife, the biggest U.S. life insurer, retains about $10 billion and was among the carriers subpoenaed by Andrew Cuomo, the New York Attorney General.

Many life insurance companies suggest to beneficiaries that as an alternative to taking a lump-sum payment of death benefits, they leave the bulk of the policy proceeds with the carriers.

The accounts were set up for beneficiaries such as Cindy Lohman of Great Mills, Md. Her 24-year-old son had been killed by a bomb in Afghanistan. Prudential and the other insurers give the recipients limited checkbook-like access to the funds and pay modest interest.

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Anything for a buck.

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