Sears survived liquidation, but the same can’t be said for its retirees’ life insurance coverage.
CBS reported that some in the retailer’s pool of 90,000 retirees will now have to pay for their own life insurance polices, which were worth at least $5,000.
Sears did not immediately return Business Insider’s request for comment.
Insurance expert David Paige told Business Insider that the news isn’t good for retirees.
“The thing that is so distressing about this is that it’s probable that most, if not all, of them will not be eligible to buy replacement insurance,” Paige told Business Insider. “So they’re taking something away from them that in all probability they cannot replace.”
Paige told Business Insider that the employee benefit of group insurance is so “valuable” because it’s guaranteed, unlike a policy that you’d sign up for solo.
Unlike health insurance, life insurance has no rule stipulating that insurers can’t reject applicants for pre-existing conditions like illness. Paige said that the age of the applicants could also bar them from life insurance. CBS reported that the average age of the retirees is 80.
This isn’t the first rumble of trouble regarding life insurance coverage for Sears retirees. Ron Olbrysh, a former Sears assistant general counsel who runs the The National Association of Retired Sears Employees, previously told the Chicago Tribune that his fellow retirees were concerned about life insurance even before the company declared bankruptcy. Olbrysh didn’t immediately reply to Business Insider’s request for comment.
“If Sears does declare bankruptcy, the life insurance will not be secured and retirees would have the option of converting their life insurance to whole life but they would have to pay for it totally on their own,” he told the Tribune.
In the wake of the news, critics blasted the struggling retailer on social media, pointing out that Sears previously received court approval to dole out $25 million in bonuses to executives. Sen. Bernie Sanders called the decision an instance of “corporate greed.”
Olbrysh told CBS that NARSE was deciding whether or not to take Sears to court over the life insurance cuts.
“Whether they can get away with it or not has to do with the vagaries of bankruptcy law and how it works on benefits plans,” Paige said.
That takes into account the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act (also known as ERISA), state law, and whether or not Sears’ policy was a term plan or a cash-value plan.
In a term plan, a person will pay a premium for coverage, which will last for a pre-determined term. In a cash-value plan, a person pays money that causes a “buildup” of value in an insurance plan.
“The cash value is considered by many jurisdictions as an investment,” Paige said. “The cash buildup inside of the policy is the equivalent of invested money.”
However, he also said that it’s rare to see a cash value element in group insurance plans.
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