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Disability benefit plans are often structured to provide two different types of benefits. The first is for short term disability or often just refered to as STD, which typically provides benefits for the first 3-12 months of disability.  After the conclusion of short term disability benefits, the claim is then transitioned for approval of long term disability benefits, also referred to as simply LTD. Often, the same insurer administers both the short and long term plan and the definition for eligibility of benefits is identical. However, many of our clients find that after the expiration of short term benefits, they do not continue to receive benefits and have to go through the approval process all over again to receive approval for their long term disability claim!

Unfortunately, this is a normal course of events. We find that even though a client has been approved as disabled under a short term disability plan, insurance carriers treat the long term claim as a new claim and require a new submission of new proof. One of the reasons we suspect that this transition is not “seamless,” (as may be promised) is that the employer funds short term benefits out of its own account, and for the benefit of its employees, whereas long term disability is funded with an insurance policy where the insurer is on the hook to pay benefits.   Ordinarily, insurers have no allegiance to employees.  Therefore, even though the definitions of disability are the same under the short and long term plan, it is more difficult to be approved for long term disability benefits.

As a result, when the claim is transferred to the long term disability unit, the insurance company may require new and additional attending physician and employer statements, updated medical records and claimant completed statements before it will evaluate the claim. This can cause a delay in long term disability benefits and even a denial of the claim, despite the fact that the same insurance company approved the disability claim just weeks before!

Trumpcare, the Republicans’ proposed plan to replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) — also known as “Obamacare” — will cut mental health and addiction treatment for 1.3 million people, just as the country is struggling to cope with an epidemic of opiate addiction. The Washington Post reported on March 9, 2017, that House Republicans admitted under questioning by Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-MA) that their ACA repeal-and-replace plan would remove a requirement to offer substance abuse and mental-health coverage that’s now used by at least 1.3 million Americans.

Substance abuse and mental-health services are among the “essential benefits” states are required to provide under the ACA’s expansion of Medicaid, a program that provides health-care coverage to those who cannot afford it. As the article explained, if states opt out of providing those benefits, Medicaid recipients would not only lose coverage for mental-health care, but also coverage for care aimed at addressing substance abuse treatment, a critical area of care given the current drug overdose epidemic many states are dealing with. According to estimates by health-care economists, about 1.3 million Americans’ sole access to these services is through the ACA.

 

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Insurance denial, ERISA denial, claim denied
Every insurance policy requires that you give notice of your claim for benefits to the company before benefits can be paid.  It doesn’t matter if the claim is for medical services, disability benefits, life insurance, fire, flood, theft, etc. Obviously, notice and information about your claim is necessary before the insurance conpany can process and pay the claim. Policies also usually require that notice of a claim be given within a specified time period following the loss, for example, “30 days,” or “as soon as practicable,” or “as soon as reasonably possible,” etc.  Again, this is fair because evidence related to the claim is fresh, and most readily available nearer the time of the event.

But, what happens if you can’t, or don’t comply with the policy notice requirement?  What happens if don’t give notice until months, or even years after your claim accrued?

Good questions.

Why pass on free personalized advice?

One of the people who contacted us this week was a woman who had her Long Term Disability benefits terminated by Standard Insurance Company after Standard had paid her those benefits for many years. Despite multiple surgeries, her symptoms had not improved. Each morning she takes powerful pain medications. Sometimes those medications offer enough relief to enable her to attend to daily functions, but often, they do not.

Either way, she was certainly not able to perform the duties of her job when Standard cut off her benefits. Nonetheless, Standard Insurance Company all of the sudden determined she had not provided sufficient proof of disability and terminated her Long Term Disability benefits. Thinking this was simply a misunderstanding, she appealed the denial on her own without speaking to an attorney first. After all she reasoned, Standard Insurance Company had told her all she needed to do was explain to them why she was still disabled.

HOW INSURERS’ RECENT WRONGFUL RATIONING OF HARVONI DRUG TREATMENT FOR HEPATITIS C EXPOSES A LONG HISTORY OF UNREASONABLE AND HARMFUL INSURANCE COMPANY PRACTICES

Written by Tim Rozelle, Esq.

In July, August, October and December 2015, Kantor & Kantor filed class action lawsuits against Anthem Blue Cross Life and Health Insurance Company (and 26 other Anthem, Inc.-affiliated health plans nationwide), UnitedHealthcare Insurance Company (and 31 other United-affiliated health plans nationwide) and HealthNet respectively regarding the insurers’ categorical denials of Harvoni drug treatment for Hepatitis C. In denying treatment, the insurers told their insureds that their liver must reach a certain level of scarring (F3 or F4 on an F0-F4 scale) before treatment becomes necessary and would be approved.  In these respective lawsuits, our clients allege that the named insurers violated the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) (or allege that the insureds breached insurance contracts) by using internal coverage guidelines (ICGs) to overrule providers’ determinations of appropriate medical treatment. Our clients claimed that the insurers forced them to live with a serious health problem and related issues until their livers became sufficiently deteriorated to approve treatment.

In a previous blog, we discussed the steps you need to take if you have a long term disability claim through a policy provided by your employer, before you hire an attorney. This blog will piggy back on that one, focusing on why the appeal itself is so important and more, why the quality of the evidence you submit during that appeal will make or break your claim.

Under the federal regulations governing ERISA claims, and the cases that have interpreted those regulations, your appeal is the only opportunity you will have to get evidence of your disability into your claim file. (There are a few exceptions to this general rule but for purposes of most cases, the appeal is it).

While you do have a right to litigate your claim once you have exhausted your administrative remedies under the plan, you do not have the right to testify, call witnesses or present new evidence to the judge. All the judge will see, if your claim goes that far, is the evidence that was submitted during your administrative appeal. Thus, the type and quality of the evidence you submit during your appeal is crucial to a successful claim.

In July 2011, Plaintiff Lana Robertson was diagnosed with diffuse systemic sclerosis, a rare autoimmune disease that causes the skin and other connective tissues in the body to tighten and harden. Without treatment, the disease can attack tissues in internal organs and is fatal once it infiltrates the tissues of the lungs or heart. Robertson’s treating physician, Dr. Richard Burt, Chief of the Division of Immunotherapy at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, recommended as”medically necessary” a hemapoietic stem cell transplant (“the Procedure”).

Robertson, a plan participant under an employer-sponsored health benefits plan established by Defendant Stallion Oilfield Holdings, Inc. (“Stallion”) (Plan Administrator) and claims administered by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas (“BCBS Texas”) (Claims Administrator), sought pre-approval from BCBS Texas for treatment with the FDA-approved Procedure’s protocol on November 8, 2013. BCBS denied the claim on the grounds that the Procedure was “experimental, investigational, and unproven.” The initial denial specifically stated that: “Per the data in peer-reviewed medical literature, autologous stem cell transplant is not effective, reliable, and safe for auto-immune diseases, including systemic sclerosis.”

Robertson appealed the decision twice and was denied twice (December 2013 and February 2014) by different independent review organizations (IROs). Each IRO denied Robertson’s claim on essentially the same grounds, namely that “[t]he proposed transplant for the treatment of systemic sclerosis is part of a phase 3 randomized clinical trial and is therefore considered investigational.” The IRO reviews did no more than simply endorse the position of BCBS Texas.

By law, when an insurance company denies all or part of your Long Term Disability (“LTD”) or Life insurance claim and gives you the right to appeal their decision, you also have a right to request and receive, free of charge, a copy of all documents the insurance company produced or considered in the evaluation of your claim. This group of documents is commonly referred to as the “Claim File.” This includes all the correspondence, internal notes and memos, medical records, reports by outside vendors (surveillance reports and videos, reports from doctors they had you see or sent your records to for a peer review, vocational reviewers, etc.), and copies of your Plan and/or Policy.

Seems simple enough, and certainly that is the type of stuff you’d want to know before appealing their decision. So why then, do so many people appeal without requesting and reviewing their Claim File?

The main reason people fail to request their Claim File when their insurance claim is denied is because they don’t know that they can, even though insurers are required to notify you of this right within the denial letter. This is because insurers (not-so) cleverly try to hide your right to receive this information by burying it within the denial letter, or by phrasing it in a very inconspicuous manner. This is assuming they even mention it at all, as we have seen numerous denial letters that make no mention of your right to this information. Some examples:

When 90-year-old Arlene Hull purchased long-term care insurance in 1997, she expected the insurance would pay benefits if she needed residential care. What she didn’t expect was to be denied benefits after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and had already been receiving assisted living care for two years. According to the Billings Gazette, Ability Insurance Company refused to continue paying for Hull’s care, saying the facility’s medical staff and an independent consultant concluded that Hull did not need “continual supervision due to a severe cognitive impairment” and that her doctor said she was “moderately” not “severely” impaired.

Hull sued, and the insurer’s own medical examiner determined that Hull qualified for benefits. Ability resumed paying for Hull’s care, but refused to reimburse her for the intervening period during which it had denied benefits.

Ability’s conduct didn’t win approval with a Montana jury, which awarded Hull $250,000 for breach of contract; $2 million for violation of Montana’s Unfair Trade Practices law; and $32 million in punitive damages, about the largest jury award in the state’s history. Hull won’t receive that much, since the state caps punitive awards at $10 million. Still, the size of the award sends a message to insurers who treat people with Alzheimer’s unfairly. See, “Jury awards elderly Billings woman $34 million in long-term care dispute.”

Eating disorders are the deadliest of all mental illnesses, affecting 24 million Americans. They lead to numerous severe and chronic health problems, and without treatment, up to 20% of people with serious eating disorders will die. The challenge lies in family, friends, and physicians to recognize this secretive disorder, and catch it before the illness has set its roots.

If doctors were appropriately trained and more perceptive to the subtle symptoms of disordered eating, they would be better equipped to intervene early. Early intervention leads to a more successful treatment outcome, alleviates critical health issues, decreases the significant financial and emotional burdens of treatment on families, and has the potential to save lives.

The Times Union, in Albany, New York, reported on a vitally important bill sponsored by Sen. Shirley Huntley and Assemblyman Peter Rivera. This bill would mandate New York Physicians to receive training on the early recognition of eating disorders by requiring physicians and physician’s assistants, who have not received education on eating disorders, to take a one- hour free online course. This is quite a simple undertaking for physicians and such a small piece of their time, for something that may protect many lives.

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