The Bulletin Board

Insurance Department returns $2.3 million to wronged consumers, levies a record $371,000 in fines

By: - August 29, 2022 4:49 pm
Outdoor sign on a lawn for the New Hampshire Insurance Department

New Hampshire Insurance Department Deputy Commissioner D.J. Bettencourt said the state “has a wonderful partner in MetLife.” (Dana Wormald | New Hampshire Bulletin)

The New Hampshire Insurance Department more than doubled the amount of money it returned to consumers over last year, securing $2.3 million primarily from insurance companies that denied claims or overcharged consumers. It also levied a record number of fines against insurers and insurance agents.

The department’s assistance to Granite Staters is free but it does come with a request. “All we ever ask is that if we help somebody, tell a friend. Let people know that we’re here,” said Keith Nyhan, director of consumer services at the department. “That’s what we do. We help people with insurance problems.”

In addition to returning more than $2 million to consumers, the department also collected $371,000 in fines and $82,000 in restitution against insurers and insurance agents, said Joshua Hilliard, compliance and enforcement counsel at the department. 

In one case, the department learned that a national company was overcharging consumers for a package of services that were far less expensive if purchased individually. Hilliard said the department investigated and discovered victims in New Hampshire. 

The amount in fines collected in fiscal year 2022 is a tenfold increase in the total last year. The 238 referrals that came in reflected an even bigger increase, 35 percent.

“We don’t control the outcome in terms of money because it depends on the conduct,” Hilliard said. “It just so happens that we’ve uncovered some pretty significant misconduct and last year that resulted in significant fines.”

Hilliard said those increases are due in large part to the department more actively encouraging people to contact it with concerns and investigating whether there are local victims when it learns a company or insurance agent has committed wrongdoing in another state.

Some of those fines begin with a complaint to the department’s consumer division. 

The 851 consumer complaints the insurance the department investigated last year were relatively steady from the prior year, said Nyhan. The amount given back to consumers was not, jumping  from about $1 million to $2.3 million. Nyhan attributed the difference to last year’s cases bringing in smaller awards.

The consumer division fields questions and complaints from insurance customers, companies, and health care providers when there is a dispute over coverage or payment for claims. The majority relate to automobile accidents, Nyhan said. They often involve insurance companies that are slow to settle a claim or insurers that offer far less compensation when a vehicle has been totaled. 

“In some cases, the consumer might have obtained that money without our help,” Nyhan said. “It’s pretty rare. It’s basically the department assisting consumers to find financial remedy when they were unable to do that on their own.”

The department also assists health care providers helping a patient obtain coverage for a treatment or procedure and health care offices struggling to get an insurer to resolve claims.. 

The state Insurance Department answers questions and takes complaints via phone at 1-800-852-3416 and email at [email protected]. While it upgrades its website, the department suggested consumers use Google when investigating whether their insurance company or agent has been fined or faced other action. Hilliard said including “the New Hampshire Insurance Department” is the best way to find any state actions.

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Annmarie Timmins
Annmarie Timmins

Senior reporter Annmarie Timmins is a New Hampshire native who covered state government, courts, and social justice issues for the Concord Monitor for 25 years. During her time with the Monitor, she won a Nieman Fellowship to study journalism and mental health courts at Harvard for a year. She has taught journalism at the University of New Hampshire and writing at the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications.