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Unum: a Tale of Two Extremes

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Chattanooga, TNIf only disgruntled Unum policyholders could have been flies on the wall this past week when Unum president and CEO Thomas R. Watjen rattled on about 'sustainable momentum' and robust performance during the company's annual general meeting (AGM) in mid-June.

"Over the past several years, we have made solid progress in just about every area of the company, and we have significantly improved both our operations and financial position," said Watjen.

Work InjuryTell that to Don, from Houston Texas. He was hurt on the job and received payments from Unum for six months while he applied for long-term Social Security benefits. Once the SSDI money started coming in, Unum allegedly demanded the retroactive SSDI payments in order to pay the insurer back. What's more, Don says Unum was supposed to pay the difference between the original Unum amount, and the SSDI amount, which would have lowered Unum's monthly payment liability. However, Don reports he never got a cent from Unum, and since has been forced into bankruptcy.

Since 2004 Unum reports an increase in operating income of 53 percent and has more than tripled its capital position, ending 2007 with more than $1 billion in holding company liquidity. During that time, according to figures released to stakeholders at the Unum AGM, the company's market cap increased 62 percent, and its stock rose 44 percent, outpacing even the S&P 500.

Tell that to Zaharias, of Chantilly Virginia. Zaharias was on disability for two degenerative discs in the lumbar area of the spine, and also suffered spinal stenosis for 14 months. Unum denied the claim. Marriage problems ensued, and the family lost their home.

At the Unum AGM, Watjen stressed the company's focus on the consistent execution of its business and operating plans, the maintaining of disciplined, profitable growth, leveraging its leadership and further growing its people.

"By focusing on these themes, we believe we can continue to instill even greater confidence in the company among our constituents," added Watjen. "By continuing to execute on our business plan, we will further our leadership position in employee benefits and continue to create value for our stockholders."

Tell that to Patricia, of Somerdale New Jersey, who derived little value from her Unum policy after she was diagnosed with Meniere's disease, which affects her hearing, balance and equilibrium, and is also characterized by ringing in the ears. Patricia reports being harassed daily by Unum, asking if her condition had changed. When her benefit, which Unum decided to pay in one large, lump sum arrived the same day as her SSDI check, Unum demanded their money returned. Patricia alleges that she had to empty her pension, just to pay them back. She wonders how they sleep at night.

At the Unum AGM, as the flies on the wall fidgeted, Watjen made the point that in the wake of continually rising health care costs, more employers are shifting the cost of benefits to employees, who generally need more help in understanding the choices they face. At the same time, the Unum CEO says, employers are facing an increasingly diverse workforce.

As for policyholders, savings rates have dropped to negative levels, leaving wage earners with less of a personal safety net in the event of illness, or injury.

"I know of no other benefits provider as uniquely positioned to help individuals and companies address these issues as Unum," Watjen said. "We have a strong base from which to build and a number of initiatives under way to meet these evolving needs."

Tell that to Jim, of Mancos Colorado. After purchasing a long-term disability policy from Unum about ten years ago, he has found that his premium has increased twice in the last two years. While Unum is apparently obligated not to increase the premiums for reasons of age or illness, they can allegedly put through a premium increase that represents a block of payers, at will. Thus, they allegedly have.

And tell that to Nancy, of Pembroke Massachusetts. She survived a brain aneurysm and went on to require five brain surgeries. After being on long-term disability for about a year, her federal Social Security benefits finally kicked in and she was mailed a check covering the previous year retroactively. However, Nancy was required to hand the entire check over to Unum.

It seems Unum, as a corporation, is doing well. That success, it appears, is built on the backs of well-meaning policyholders who pay their premiums every month and are rewarded with suspicion and contempt when a legitimate claim is made.

It is not known if any policyholders were present, or invited to the Unum Annual General Meeting…

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