What Happens to AIG Customers?

As insurance giant struggles, insurance customers worry about their benefits.

ByALICE GOMSTYN <br/> ABC NEWS Business Unit
September 16, 2008, 2:47 PM

Sept. 16, 2008&#151; -- An accident three years ago left Gloria Cirolo-Wright so injured that she couldn't continue with her job as a nurse. Today, the 57-year-old Massachusetts woman and her husband, a maintenance supervisor, rely on a weekly worker's compensation check from AIG to help make ends meet.

AIG is one of the world's largest insurance companies, with operations in 130 countries and products that include worker's compensation, auto insurance, life insurance and annuities. Now, as the company struggles to stay afloat amid losses related to the country's mortgage crisis, Cirolo-Wright is one of many customers questioning whether her benefits are in danger.

"I'm really worried that if AIG is going bankrupt that means that I won't have any source of income at all," she said. "I'm totally disabled. … I'm just so scared I don't know what to do."

Exactly how worried should AIG customers be?

The insurance giant so far has defended the health of its multiple insurance businesses.

"The insurance policies written by AIG companies are direct obligations of our regulated insurance companies around the world. These companies are well capitalized and meet or exceed local regulatory capital requirements. These companies continue to operate in the normal course to meet our obligations to our policyholders," AIG spokesman Peter Tulupman wrote in an e-mail to ABCNews.com.

Tulupman said that customers with questions about certain AIG policies and products should call the following phone numbers:

Insurance experts say that even if AIG fails, there is a state-organized system in place to protect consumers and ensure that most continue receiving the benefits guaranteed by their insurance policies.

"There is a safety net in place for all insurance policy holders," said Roger Schmelzer, the president and CEO of National Conference of Insurance Guaranty Funds. "The personal insurance consumer is gong to be treated well under this safety net."

Every state, experts say, have at least two guaranty funds that cover claims associated with insurance companies that have shut down. One fund covers property and casualty claims, including workers' compensation, and another for life insurance, health insurance and annuities. The funds are supported by assessments charged to insurance companies.

In the last six years, guaranty funds in the United States have paid a total of about $10 billion in claims, according to NCIGF.

Claims paid by the funds are generally capped at $300,000, but each state has its own limits. A listing of the limits for life and health insurance are available on the Web site for the National Organization of Life & Health Insurance Guaranty Associations, while the National Conference of Insurance Guaranty Funds offers more information on property and casualty insurance at its Web site.

Schmelzer said that state guaranty funds that are members of NCIGF have reported an uptick in phone calls by worried consumers in recent days. But it's not just concerns about AIG, he said, that might be prompting the calls.

"I think there's just a general sense of skittishness about what's going in the financial markets," he said.

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