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.”

There may come a time in your life when you will need to consult with a lawyer – whether it be good news or bad news. We routinely speak with individuals who have had life, health, and disability claims denied by their insurance companies. Understandably, this is a very difficult time for the individuals who call us. We understand that, and try to make the process simple…but we need your help.

As lawyers, we are well-versed in the practice of law, but we rely on the information from our clients to steer us in the right direction and guide each case. It takes TEAMWORK to get a successful outcome for our clients.

Here are a few tips for talking to your lawyer and sharing with them what they need to know.

On May 11, 2017, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued a decision in Orzechowski v. Boeing Co. Non-Union LTD Plan, et al., Case No. 14-55919 (9th Circ. May 11, 2017) upholding the application of the California law which invalidates “discretionary clauses” in Long Term Disability (LTD) plans and other life and disability contracts of insurance.

Prior to 2012, insurers in California (and many other states) were allowed to place “discretionary clauses” into their insurance policies. These clauses, while seemingly innocuous, actually made it significantly harder for insureds to challenge wrongful denials of insurance benefits in court. These clauses forced Federal Courts to review denials of insurance benefits under an “abuse of discretion” standard. In order to prevail under this standard, an insured not only had to show that they were entitled to the benefits under the contract, but they also had to show that the insurer’s decision was “arbitrary and capricious.”  The effect of this was that Court’s were routinely deferring to the “discretion” of the insurer thereby upholding their denial. This created is a much more difficult standard of proof for insureds to meet than in an ordinary civil lawsuit, where one need only prove their case by a “preponderance” of the evidence, and where Courts do not give any special weight to the evidence presented by the other side.  The result of the so-called discretionary clauses was that many insureds lost their lawsuits for wrongfully denied benefits even when, technically, they were entitled to benefits under the term of the contract.  Court’s would simply hold they could not find evidence the insurer “abused its discretion” or acted unreasonably enough so as to justify overturning the insurer’s denial of benefits.

In 2012, the California legislature passed California Insurance Code §10110.6, which provides that all discretionary clauses in California insurance contracts are null and void, if the insurance policy or plan “renewed” as of January 1, 2012. As a result, Courts will now look at the evidence anew, or “de novo” to make a determination of whether the insured is entitled to benefits, instead of simply deferring to the insurance company’s conclusions.  This is a much easier burden for insureds to meet than the older “abuse of discretion” standard.

“There used to be considerable skepticism that Fibromyalgia was a real disease. No more.”

Kennedy v. The Lilly Extended Disability Plan, –F.3d–, 2017 WL 2178091 (7th Cir., 2017)

It has been said that disability insurance carriers view a Fibromyalgia diagnosis with skepticism. The disease is an “invisible disease” which cannot be measured on x-ray and its diagnosis is often dependent on an insured’s report of pain, fatigue and cognitive dysfunction. For this reason, insurance carriers often try to discount the disabling nature of the disease.   We see carriers do this by: (1) hiring physicians who do not believe in the disabling nature of the disease or (2) demanding the insured submit “objective proof” of the disability, which cannot exist. There are no x-ray’s or MRI’s used for diagnosing Fibromyalgia.

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