After more than two years of fighting, five months spent submitting claims forms, a protracted appeal, a lawsuit and a call from ABC News’ “Good Morning America,” Susan Kristoff, unable to work and being treated for stage 4 cancer, finally received her long-term disability benefits.
Cigna, her insurer, announced that its change of heart resulted from “additional information” uncovered during Susan’s appeal. Susan’s lawyer Alicia Grisham thinks differently. “The insurance companies understand that if they deny and deny claims, then many of the claimants will never pursue their claims,” Grisham said, describing a tactic known as “slow walking.”
We’ve seen this before: Bury the policyholder in mountains of claims forms, move your customer service department off-shore, keep your clients on hold, lose the paperwork, deny the claim, ask for more information, subject the sick or injured claimant to a confusing and prolonged appeal process, delay, deny, delay, deny, and perhaps the insured will give up or die.
The sad fact is that there are enough people in Susan Kristoff’s situation to keep “Good Morning America” on the air well into the next century.
Is the answer, as Grisham suggests, penalizing insurance companies for slow walking by allowing punitive damages in consumer lawsuits? Right now, the federal law known as ERISA protects disability insurers from such punitive damages in employee welfare benefit cases, and that give insurers little incentive to speed up claims processing and appeals.
At the moment, a policyholder’s best protection against slow walking is speed dialing an experienced disability insurance lawyer the moment a claim is denied. Two years without income is too long to wait, even if it means you end up featured on “Good Morning America.”