CEO of MMI, Momentum Insurance’s holding company, Hillie Meyer, was interviewed on 702 by host Eusebius McKaiser, but his attempts to defend his company did not go as planned.
Nathan Ganas died from gunshot wounds following a botched hijacking, and Momentum refused to pay out his R2.4 million coverage due to the discovery that he had a pre-existing condition that was allegedly known and not declared.
This related to high blood sugar which, although unrelated to his cause of death, is legal grounds for rejecting the claim. Momentum was taken to the insurance ombudsman over the claim, who found in the insurer’s favour.
Outrage has followed Momentum’s decision, but Meyer took to the radio in a bid to show his company was just following standard procedure.
McKaiser asked: “It seems to me that this was handled piss poorly. Would you agree you could have handled it better even if you have the law on your side?”
Meyer responded: “If material disclosure comes to light, as it unfortunately did after the death of this client, in the application form where there are very clear questions around very specific matters that the client was not truthful, that basically means that the contract was not valid.
“Let me try and explain why we think it’s important to take emotion out of our decisions, when there was material nondisclosure rendering a contract [invalid] why we always stick to the principle of saying we’re happy to repay premiums but we are not paying a claim,” he continued, adding that if the company were to “implicitly encourage nondisclosure, more people might start doing this”.
McKaiser countered: “I am perfectly happy to take emotion out of this because the problem for you, Hillie, is that you’re going to lose the argument on logic, not on heart. The material nondisclosure was not the cause of death.”
Meyer continued to defend himself, saying that if they accept non-disclosure, “insurance premiums will have to go up and many clients will not have the coverage they think. When is it acceptable for a client not to be truthful at the application phase?”
Eusebius asked: “A man dies in a hail of bullets, the cause is obvious, it was a botched hijacking, how do you even come to know that he had a problem with some other ailment?”
Meyer explained that after receiving a claim, the company “will then ask for a lot of information to verify if all the information is encapsulated in the application”.
Eusebius asked: “We all know a doctor signs off what the call of death is, we all know in this case the person died because of multiple gunshot wounds. Why are you even interested in any further information about underlying conditions, is it not because you are trying to look for a reason not to pay out?”
The interview continued in this vein.
Attempts to defend his company from Meyer included:
“I think it’s actually our right … we need to follow all the disciplines and that’s what we do and that’s why we investigate all the claims.”
“I understand you saying there’s no relation between medical records and the gunshot wounds here so why don’t you just pay out, but I think it’s just our standard practices.”
“It’s really about the concept of risk. I understand where you’re coming from, why did we even look at it, the point is we did … it’s a normal practice.”
These were met with swift rebuttals from McKaiser which included:
“Your logic is letting you down and you wanted to have this conversation on the basis of rationality rather than on emotion.”
“You have the law on your side but you are being absolutely callous from an ethics point of view.”
“You’re trying to pull the wool over the public’s eyes.”
When Meyer mentioned that honest disclosure in medical forms is a question of integrity, McKaiser said the “integrity question” is one which “cuts both ways”.
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“The only integrity in shreds is your company’s because what you have done after knowing the medical cause of death is to go on a fishing expedition,” McKaiser continued.
When Meyer said: “If the client had answered truthfully the very simple questions we asked, there wouldn’t have been a contract,” McKaiser responded: “No Hillie, you just don’t want to pay out.”
Towards the end of the interview, Meyer said “Every death is tragic” which McKaiser called: “One of the worst holding company CEO attempts at PR spin I’ve heard on media.”
The interview can be heard below.
[MUST LISTEN] This is how NOT to respond when your company is in trouble with the public. Listen to the CEO of Momentum…
(Compiled by Daniel Friedman)