The New York attorney general’s investigation into abuses in the insurance industry escalated yesterday with a lawsuit accusing a California broker of fraudulent practices that led to higher premiums for employees at some of the nation’s leading companies.
The attorney general, Eliot Spitzer, sued Universal Life Resources, accusing the firm of steering business to insurers like MetLife, Prudential and Unum Provident in exchange for millions of dollars in payments, which, until 2003, were not properly disclosed. The insurance coverage was bought for employees of companies like Viacom and Intel. The complaint also contends that Universal Life inflated certain fees relating to benefit enrollment materials, ultimately passing that cost onto the client’s employees.
Mr. Spitzer’s lawsuit against Universal Life is the second against an insurance broker since his investigation of the industry began last spring. The investigation’s focus has been on bid-rigging by brokers of commercial insurance, resulting in a lawsuit against Marsh & McLennan, the biggest insurance broker, on Oct. 14.
Like Marsh, Universal Life is another influential middleman, but in the area of employee benefits: the life, disability and accident insurance a company obtains for its workers. While the earlier lawsuit portrayed corporations as the victims, investigators said the latest action directly affected individuals.
“This case brings the insurance industry fraud that we have uncovered to the ordinary consumer, where monthly premiums have been inflated by the gamesmanship and illegal conduct of U.L.R. and the carriers,” Mr. Spitzer said yesterday. “This conspiracy to defeat competition and push business not to the lowest-cost provider but to the company willing to make a payoff is destroying competition.”
A lawyer for Universal Life, Bob Cleary of the firm of Proskauer Rose, declined to comment other than to say that the attorney general’s office had not sent him a copy of the complaint.