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Q: My wife attended college from 1998 to 2004 and received a bachelor’s degree in education. At the time, the National Education Association (NEA) offered a student membership. One of the benefits was an inexpensive life insurance policy. My wife signed up and paid her $25 quarterly premiums. We married in 2006 and she later contacted the NEA Member Benefits organization to make me her beneficiary. They informed her that her policy had been cancelled when she graduated. She asked them why she had continued to receive premium due notices and what had happened to the $300 she had paid since graduating. They told her that it was her fault for paying the premiums, that she should have known that she didn’t have a viable policy, and that there would not be a refund. Can you help us? --William Smith, Hallstead, Pa.

A: Having been a consumer advocate for many years, I am rarely surprised by what major companies will do to protect profits. However, the NEA, a labor union, is nonprofit. What’s their excuse?

I reached out to NEA Member Benefits (NEAMB) and was rewarded with a call from their corporate counsel, Lisa Sotir. Turns out that NEAMB doesn’t have up-to-date records of who is actually an NEA member. And incredibly enough, neither does the national union. Membership renewals are handled by an unwieldy system in which local affiliates pass member data to state associations that then forward the information to the NEA, which must update NEAMB. Sotir called the system “Byzantine” and said they have been working to improve it.

Sotir wasn’t able to explain why your wife was told her policy had been canceled; the records didn’t support that. Apparently, your wife was kept on the NEAMB rolls even though she didn’t qualify for NEA membership; she was no longer a student and wasn’t working in the teaching profession. I informed Sotir that most people would consider a cashed check to be proof of purchase. She appreciated the dilemma and offered to refund all premiums paid, a total of $300. Sotir also promised to reinstate the policy at the same rate if your wife joins the NEA.

Ron Burley is a consumer reporter and author of “Unscrewed: The Consumer’s Guide to Getting What You Paid For” (Ten Speed Press, 2006).

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