Sample Insurance Certificates – Can They Be Issued?

My last few posts have been about the legislative actions taken to assist employers and employees who are dealing with Covid-19 related issues.  I thought it would be a good time for a change of pace.  What better non-Covid-19 subject to address than one of the most enduring subjects of this blog, insurance certificates.

However, before diving into the latest facet of that subject, I wanted to let my readers know about the best guidance I have seen to date on how the Covid-19 virus works and what a person, who either can’t or doesn’t want to stay isolated in their home, can do to best protect themselves from catching it.  It was written by a medical doctor who has a PhD in Biochemistry.  He discusses the scientific basis for the recommendations made in a way that I found to be readily understandable.  The recommendations made are also consistent with common sense, which is not the case with a lot of things I have read on the subject.  It is from early April, but I have not seen anything that contradicts the basis for the recommendations made.

On to insurance certificates.  Prior to receiving an inquiry under the Free Legal Service Program I run for members of the Independent Insurance Agents of Georgia, I had never heard of “sample insurance certificates.”   Apparently, the issuance of such certificates had become so pervasive in Florida that the Florida Worker’s Compensation Joint Underwriting Association issued a bulletin banning the issuance of insurance certificates with “For Information Purposes Only” written on them or with the insured’s name as the certificate holder.  The question posed to me was whether the issuance of such certificates was permissible under Georgia law.

The short answer to that question is YES and NO.  Georgia law only permits the use of forms for insurance certificates that have been approved by the Insurance Commissioner’s Office.  That law specifically requires all such certificates to contain a statement that they are “issued as a matter of information only”, with an exception that is not relevant here.  Thus, to label an insurance certificate as being “For Information Purposes Only” is actually required by Georgia law.

However, that law does prohibit the preparation or issuance of an insurance certificate that contains “any false or misleading information.”  Since under the law a policy holder cannot also be a certificate holder, the policy holder’s name and address could not be put in the box labeled “Certificate Holder” under any circumstances.  But the law does not prohibit the issuance of an  insurance certificate to the policy holder for its use, as long as the certificate otherwise complies with the law’s requirements.   In addition to not containing “false or misleading information”, it cannot purport to “affirmatively or negatively alter, amend, or extend the coverage provided by the policy of insurance to which the certificate makes reference.”

In summary, the use of “sample insurance certificates” is permissible under Georgia law, as long as the policyholder is not also identified in them as the certificate holder and the certificate otherwise complies with the law’s requirements.  However, a regulation issued by the Insurance Commissioner’s Office requires all insurance companies to provide their producers with “written instructions clearly outlining the insurer’s procedures and each party’s responsibilities for issuing and servicing certificates.”  Thus, an agent should check with the insurance company in question before issuing a “sample insurance certificate” to the policy holder to find out if doing so is permitted by that company.


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