When you think of what lawyers do for a living, the first thing you probably think of is arguing over a case in front of a judge.

You may be surprised to learn, then, that in the federal courts this staple of practicing law seems to be on the way out. The federal district courts – the trial courts of the federal system – are increasingly holding fewer and fewer oral arguments. Some district courts even have a standing default rule that they won’t hear oral argument on a motion unless the presiding judge explicitly asks for it.

This trend is even more accentuated in the federal circuit courts – the appellate courts of the federal system. While the Supreme Court of the United States holds oral argument in almost all of its cases, the circuit courts of appeal do not.

Mental health issues are definitely more widely spoken about in todays society. But lip service doesn’t necessarily help with the overwhelming challenges a person has to face in living with a mental illness.

Mental illness is more common than any of us would like. According to the National Institute of Mental Health there were an estimated 43.4 million adults aged 18 or older in the United States living with a mental illness in 2015. This number represented 17.9% of all U.S. adults. (See https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/prevalence/any-mental-illness-ami-among-us-adults.shtml).

The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports the following statistics regarding mental illness rates in the United States:

As you know, churches occupy a special place in the law. For example, the First Amendment bars the government from prohibiting the free exercise of religion, and churches, indeed almost all religioous institutions, get special tax treatment from the IRS.

However, you may not know that this distinction can also affect your employee benefits. Almost all employee benefits are governed by a federal law called ERISA (the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974). This law provides various protections, including imposing a fiduciary duty on your employer to act in your best interests in administering your benefits.

However, if you are a beneficiary of an employee benefit plan established by a church (or other religious organization), your benefits are not governed by ERISA, because ERISA has an exemption for “church plans.” (There is also an exemption for government plans.) As a result, you may lose protections under ERISA if you are a church employee.

The short answer is “Yes;” especially if they are carefully drafted to adress disability issues. To be effective, a personal statement should be directed to an insured’s inability to perform the material duties of his/her occupation, or any occupation that one may be suited for by education, training and experience. The more detail, the better.

For many years, insurers routinely disregarded claimants’ personal statement describing their illness or occupational difficulties because the personal statement was not “medical evidence.” Or, a statement may have been disregarded because it described “subjective” symptoms, which were not “verified” by MRI’s, x-rays or diagnostic studies. In the last few years, the Ninth Circuit has been critical of insurers who have insisted on “objective evidence” to prove disabilities caused by pain and fatigue. See, Salomaa v. Honda LTD Plan, 642 F.3d 666 (9th Cir., 2011) (“Many medical conditions depend for their diagnosis on patient reports of pain or other symptoms, and some cannot be objectively established until autopsy. In neither case can a disability insurer condition coverage on proof by objective indicators such as blood tests where the condition is recognized yet no such proof is possible.”)

Recently we have seen courts accept personal statements of claimants, friends and co-workers as strong evidence of disability. See Demer v IBM Corporation LTD Plan, 835 F.3d 893 (9th Cir., 2016) (Statement by a friend attesting to side effects from medication) and Jahn –Derian v. Metropolitan Life Ins. Co., 2016 WL 1355625 (C.D. Cal., 2016) (Statement from co-worker attesting to the plaintiff’s failed attempts to work with her condition was persuasive evidence).

Many people know that at Kantor & Kantor, LLP we help clients when their insurance company denies coverage life insurance claims, long-term disability claims, and eating disorder treatment claims. At Kantor & Kantor, LLP we also help clients when their insurance company denies claims for certain expensive medications including: curative Hepatitis C medications, ADHD medications and, Xyrem, a medication used successfully to treat a variety of disorders, including fibromyalgia and narcolepsy.

When Insurance Says Your Prescription Is “Not Medically Necessary”

Two women’s lives were inexplicably devastated after they attempted to fill their prescriptions for Xyrem, only to be told that their insurance company had denied coverage. One of the women, we’ll call her Jane to protect her anonymity, had been taking Xyrem for nearly a decade and the other woman, we’ll call her Mary, had been taking Xyrem for over five years. For both women, the medication had always been covered by their insurance companies. Yet for some unknown reason, when their doctors submitted their prescription-refill, both women received similar letters from their insurance companies (Cigna and Anthem) stating, “Coverage for the requested medication is denied because the medication does not meet the criteria of “medical necessity” under your description of benefits.” Both Cigna and Anthem also told the women that their prescription was “off-label” and therefore not covered for that reason, as well.

Many of our clients suffer from chronic pain. For some, chronic pain is a symptom of an underlying condition, and for others it is the main condition.  In in either case, chronic pain can be and often is disabling. Because so many of our clients are affected by chronic pain, we want to spotlight and make people aware of an organization that provides information, support and education for those who suffer from chronic pain.

The American Chronic Pain Association’s mission is:

  • to facilitate peer support and education for individuals with chronic pain and their families so that these individuals may live more fully in spite of their pain; and

The classic “he said, she said” scenario shouldn’t apply to healthcare claims. A denial based on medical necessity arises when there are two opposing opinions: (1) the treating physician who recommends that a patient receive treatment necessary for the patient’s condition; and (2) the insurance company’s physician reviewer who has never seen the patient. In deciding medical necessity, the insurance company must consider clinical judgment. But whose clinical judgment applies?

Clinical judgment is defined as “the application of information based on actual observation of a patient combined with subjective and objective data that lead to a conclusion.” http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/clinical+judgment.  In most cases, the only physician who has “actual observation of a patient” is the treating physician.

Yet insurance companies give little to no credence to the clinical judgment of treating physicians. For example, major health insurer, Anthem, states that its physician reviewers will apply guidelines, “Anthem corporate medical policy, and other decision-support material.” And when criteria is not available, “physician reviewers make a determination based on the available information and their independent clinical judgment.” https://www.anthem.com/wps/portal/ahpfooter?content_path=provider/nv/f4/s4/t0/pw_002053.htm&label=Medical%20Management

With increasing frequency, insurance companies like Cigna, Unum, MetLife and Prudential are denying long-term disability (“LTD”) claims due to discrepancies between what the claimant/treating physician is saying on the claim forms and what is stated in the medical records. Essentially, the insurance company will say that the symptoms being described for purposes of the LTD claim are not reflected in the treatment records, so there’s no proof that these were ongoing problems.

This often occurs because of one main reason:  people always want to put their best foot forward.  When the doctor starts the appointment with “how are you feeling?” it’s in our human nature to simply reply “I’m doing okay.” Generally, no matter how we’re actually feeling, we don’t want to be viewed as a complainer so we may tend to downplay our symptoms, even to the extent of telling our doctor that everything is fine…when it’s clearly not.  Usually, when we respond this way, we mean that everything is okay considering the circumstances we find ourselves in, or sometimes just that “things could be worse.”  But, that’s not how it later appears in medical records.  Instead, what this often leads to is medical records showing “no active complaints” or “patient is improving” or “symptoms have subsided,” which gives the insurance company all the ammunition they need to deny the LTD claim.

So, be clear with your doctors about everything you’re experiencing. Don’t hide your symptoms.  Be detailed, and offer real-life examples. Don’t just say “I’m having memory problems.”  Give examples of having lost something, or forgot something you’ve never before forgotten.  Instead of “I’ve been very fatigued lately” explain what you were doing (like shopping, or picking up a child, or gardening, etc.) and how your fatigue interupted or prevented you from finishing the activity.  Also, check with your doctor or the doctor’s staff, to make sure everything you’re telling him/her is making it into your records.

Kantor & Kantor is happy to announce that it has won an important victory in New Jersey on behalf of a client with bulimia nervosa. The decision touches upon issues that we see too often in health insurance denials and long-term disability denials.

Our client, whose name is being kept anonymous to protect her privacy, began experiencing symptoms of her eating disorder when she was only eight years old. The eating disorder was left untreated for ten years. When she entered a residential treatment facility for her bulimia in September 2011, the facility submitted a claim for benefits to her insurance company, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey.

In a series of concurrent reviews, Horizon and its behavioral health managed care partner, Magellan Behavioral Health, paid for the first three weeks of treatment, but refused to pay past that date, contending that the treatment she was receiving was no longer “medically necessary.”

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