DOD won't ban insurance salesmen from military bases
WASHINGTON — Defense officials are still working on how to keep unscrupulous insurance agents away from servicemembers, but they won’t consider banning all salesmen from military bases.
“In the past there has been a consideration of an outright ban, but that’s not what I’d like to do,” said John Molino, deputy assistant secretary of defense for military community and family policy. “That brings its own set of problems.
“We’re not endorsing these agents — I hope that’s not the message we’re sending. But we’re not [the troops’] parents either. They should have the opportunity to make those decisions.”
In February, the Pentagon is scheduled to release new rules governing those agents’ access to military bases. It has already posted online the names of more than 20 agents who have been banned from conducting any business on military installations, because of abusive practices.
That list is available at www.commanderspage.dod.mil, under the Personal Commercial Solicitation Report.
Those moves come after months of news reports about illegal insurance sales on military facilities. In November, the GAO reported that at least six insurance companies operating in 40 states have for years been targeting junior servicemembers with confusing and questionable insurance policies, but little has been done to stop the practice.
Molino said he hopes the changes fix that, and that the new rules will remind base commanders that cracking down on dishonest brokers is a priority.
But banning agents would block troops living on base from services they might need, and in the long run could hurt servicemembers more, he said.
Currently, all troops can buy into the Servicemembers Group Life Insurance Plan, which provides $400,000 of life insurance coverage and up to $100,000 in injury insurance for $27 a month.
Retired Col. Steve Strobridge, director of government relations for the Military Officers Association of America, which offers its own insurance options, said for troops thinking about life after the military, that standard plan might not be the best option.
“We need to make improvements, but I think it’s important not to throw out the baby with the bath water,” he said. “We need to keep the bad guys off, but you’re going to the other extreme if you ban all of them from base.”
But Brian Atchinson, executive director of the Insurance Marketplace Standards Association, whose board members include representatives from major insurance brokers, said the problem is often troops don’t fully understand what they already have.
The association, a nonprofit watchdog group for the life insurance industry, has said it wants to see more education efforts and a mandate from the defense department to allow only IMSA-qualified companies on bases. The group awards that rating after reviewing companies’ ethical standards and financial practices.
“There’s always a balance: You don’t want to put [troops] at risk, but you don’t want to suppress the marketplace either,” he said. “You want them to be able to make objective and independent decisions.”
Defense officials haven’t backed allowing only IMSA-qualified companies on base but are including more educational materials on insurance and finance in their new efforts. So has the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, with a brochure available at some military bases posing questions such as “Do I need more insurance?” and “Can I afford this?”
Molino said officials will monitor the changes to see if they address the problem, and said the department is looking for more ways to work with state officials in identifying abusive sales.