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Life Insurers Rally Support For Gulf Coast As Death Toll Rises

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The latest reports are suggesting that delays caused by civil unrest, logistical problems and administrative challenges could lead to many more deaths in New Orleans in the next few days.[@@]

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin estimated Tuesday that Hurricane Katrina already had killed thousands of people in his city alone. He says residents are continuing to die because they are trapped or, even if they have found safety, have little or no food and water.

CNN reported today that there are many dead bodies in and around the same New Orleans convention center where so many insurance industry events have taken place over the years.

Meanwhile, state and federal officials say shootings and other criminal attacks have forced them to delay or suspend many rescue operations.

CNN also is reporting that some outlying communities that had thousands of residents before Katrina struck have disappeared entirely.

Some experts have suggested that many of the storm victims may have died because they were too poor to evacuate. Those victims may have had little or no life insurance.

But the Gulf Coast has a long tradition of being a strong market for funeral insurance and other life insurance policies with relatively low face values. New Orleans’ famous Mardi Gras parades have been organized in part by groups descended from the old African-American burial societies, which were nonprofit fraternal funeral insurers.

Many insurance companies and insurance organizations are still trying to learn what has happened to their own Gulf Coast members and employees.

National Underwriter was not immediately able to make contact with Pan-American Life Insurance Company, a life and health insurer with headquarters in New Orleans, and its Web site and telephone lines have been down since Katrina hit. Rumors surfaced that some employees were regrouping in Florida. One Pan-American Life employee has posted a message in the hurricane forums of WWL-TV, a New Orleans television station, seeking information about fellow employees. The message is at

Other insurance and benefits companies discussed in the WWLTV “major corporations” forum include Hartford Financial Services Group Inc., Hartford, which has been looking for 4 employees from Metairie, La., and Kenner, La., and Total Benefit Services Inc., New Orleans, which is asking all employees to call a number in Baton Rouge, La.

In related news:

- New York Life Insurance Company, New York, has agreed to contribute to the American Red Cross, Washington, and match contributions from employees, agents and retirees dollar for dollar.

“New York Life understands that in time of hardship you need people to turn to,” New York Chairman Sy Sternberg says in a statement about Katrina. “For over 160 years, we’ve stood by our customers through our nation’s greatest struggles and disasters, and we are here for you now.”

The company has pledged to pay all claims swiftly.

The company also is offering emergency loans against the cash value of current policies to help in recovery and rebuilding. New York Life policyholders who need extensions on payments or help with replacing policies that have been lost or destroyed should call the company at 800-695-4331 for help.

- Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, Minneapolis, has given $1 million to relief efforts, and it says it expects its policyholder members to raise another $2 million.

- Allstate Corp., Northbrook, Ill., will give $1 million to relief efforts and is matching contributions from employees, agents and agency staff dollar for dollar.

- The Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, Chicago, expects to join with its member plans to donate at least $1 million to relief efforts.

- Humana Inc., Louisville, Ky., says it will be contributing $1 million, with half of the money going to the American Red Cross and half going to local relief efforts.

- WellPoint Inc., Indianapolis, has announced an immediate contribution of $500,000 to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund, and it will be matching 50% of employee contributions to the American Red Cross, Washington.

- Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company, Springfield, Mass., will be contributing $250,000 to the relief effort and contributing $2 for each $1 that its employees and sales representatives contribute over the next 60 days.

- The Regence Group, Portland, Ore., a group of Northwestern Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans, says it will contribute $100,000 to relief efforts.

- Principal Financial Group Inc., Des Moines, Iowa, is starting with a $75,000 contribution to the American Red Cross. It also will match contributions to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund by employees, retirees and career agents dollar for dollar. The donations must be received by Sept. 16.

- Hartford Financial Services Group Inc., Hartford, says it will continue to insure homeowners, automobile and commercial insurance customers hit by Hurricane Katrina if they are temporarily unable to make their insurance payments. The announcement affects customers in Louisiana and Mississippi and in the following Alabama counties: Baldwin, Clarke, Choctaw, Mobile, Sumter and Washington. The announcement also affects customers in the following Florida counties: Broward, Charlotte, Collier, Escambia, Lee, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Okaloosa, Palm Beach, Santa Rosa and Sarasota.

- The American Council of Life Insurers, Washington, has issued a statement extending its sympathies to families affected by Katrina.

“As they have in the past, life insurers will respond promptly in delivering on the promise of financial security they have made to all policyholders,” ACLI President Frank Keating says in the statement.

The ACLI will be offering any assistance it can to help with officials in affected states cope with life insurance-related issues, Keating says.

- America’s Health Insurance Plans, Washington, will be funneling contributions from member companies through its Louisiana chapter, and it also will be working with member companies and emergency relief officials to make sure that members have access to uninterrupted health benefits, even in cases in which they have evacuated to locations far outside their usual health plan service areas, an AHIP spokesman says.


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