Guest Commentary

A man fights for what's right after his wife dies, and her life-insurance claim is unfairly denied

On May 14, 2008, Mike Humphrey's beloved wife, Pam, and his sister, Ann Quinn, were killed in a car crash on Interstate 10.

Pam, formerly the human resources manager at Tucson Water, had just retired from the city of Tucson after 30 years, on March 30, 2008.

Mike and Pam had been married for 30 years. Instead of being able to realize their retirement dreams of working part-time at Santa Theresa Tile Works, doing volunteer work and traveling the United States, Mike Humphrey found himself battling Pam's insurance company and the city to receive benefits from a life-insurance policy that Pam had paid for over the course of 28 years.

Upon retirement, Pam requested the paperwork to continue her supplemental life insurance. She told Mike that she hoped it would pay for their son's college education if anything happened to her. A week after her death, Humphrey found the paperwork in her inbox. She had apparently forgotten to fill it out and send it in within the 31-day grace period. Pam had received no reminder or cancellation notices from the city or from the Fort Dearborn Life Insurance Company.

Humphrey tried to take up the matter with Fort Dearborn, without success. They denied the claim, refused to send him a copy of Pam's policy and would not answer questions about whether the company would have continued her insurance had Pam lived and sent in the late payment.

Most insurance companies have a 60- to 90-day grace period. Fort Dearborn has a 31-day grace period. Pam's $75 payment was 45 days late. Dearborn refused Mike's late payment.

Humphrey then appealed to the city. City Councilwoman Karin Uhlich investigated the matter, and on Sept. 13 sent a letter to Fort Dearborn requesting that they pay Pam's claim. On Sept. 26, Fort Dearborn denied the claim again. Humphrey appealed and was denied yet again on Nov. 4.

On Dec. 9, Mike went before the City Council to ask for assistance. He also sent a letter to Anthony Trani, president and CEO of Fort Dearborn, asking that he review the claim.

Humphrey later received a copy of a letter from the city's human resources director, Cindy Bezaury, to Deputy City Manager Mike Letcher, dated Dec. 23, that states in part, "As unfortunate as this circumstance remains, the contractual provisions and filing deadlines are there to prevent influencing payment of claims or implementing coverage based on what is perceived as mitigating circumstances. Opening the door to making an exception in this circumstance will open the door to an exception in every circumstance, which will result in costs the city cannot absorb."

On Jan. 10, 2009, Humphrey received a registered letter from Trani. The company had yet again denied the claim.

On Jan. 12, Humphrey met with Letcher and City Attorney Mike Rankin. According to Humphrey, Letcher said he had spoken to Trani, and based on his conversation and the legal review by Rankin, there was nothing further the city could do.

Rankin explains that "all terms, including the grace period, will be reviewed in 2010 when the city's contract is up for review with Fort Dearborn. ... Steps making sure employees understand their opportunities to make informed decisions will also be reviewed."

Humphrey says he understands the legalities, but feels that since Pam faithfully paid her premiums for 28 years, Fort Dearborn has a moral and ethical responsibility to her. He also feels that the city of Tucson is ultimately responsible for the actions of its contractors.

Humphrey has asked that the city institute a simple, two step "retiree safety net": first, that the city makes sure that every employee reject or select/pay for benefits prior to their leaving employment; and second, that the city institutes a policy whereby benefit contractors must provide written notification to city employees/retirees about the continuance and/or cancellation of coverage, both at the beginning and the end of the coverage and "grace" periods.

Humphrey notes that this "retiree safety net" is especially important now that the city is actively encouraging employees to retire, in an effort to help address the budget deficit.

Although Humphrey will not benefit from these policy changes, he feels that Pam and her contributions to the city would be honored if the city took steps to make sure that nobody else is ever denied benefits that they earned.