During an office visit with your doctor, she recommends you undergo a treatment you’ve never had before. You call your health insurance company, and a representative assures you the treatment is covered by your health insurance plan. Can you rely on what the representative says? Will the treatment be covered by your insurance?

Caution is Key

Be cautious when relying on what health insurance representatives tell you over the phone. The representative can give you general information about what services are covered by your health insurance, but she cannot guarantee that you have met all the requirements under the terms of your policy for the treatment to be covered for you.

Maybe you’ve heard (or experienced) the tragic story of someone becoming ill, forgetting or being unable to pay their life insurance premium, only to see the policy lapse at the time it is needed most. It’s more common than you may realize, and at our law firm we see it quite often. It is terribly unfortunate.

What most people don’t realize, however, is that there is law in California that may come to the rescue. That law is known as the “notice prejudice” rule. The rule emanates from a judicially created doctrine dating back to at least 1963, when the California Supreme Court decided Campbell v. Allstate Ins. Co. (1963) 60 Cal.2d 303, 305. The rule is simple: it prohibits insurers from denying insurance benefits on the ground that the insured presented an untimely claim, unless the insurer can show it was prejudiced by the delay. It is expressly designed to prohibit insurance companies from disclaiming liability based on a “technical escape hatch,” and to protect insureds from the unfair forfeiture of their benefits on procedural grounds. (The rule is also widespread; the majority of states impose a similar requirement on insurers.)

So, how does the rule apply to lapsed life insurance? Well, it is important to state at the outset that it only applies in certain circumstances. One of the most common examples is when the life insurance policy also includes a provision that premium payments will be excused or “waived” in the event the insured becomes disabled. This is usually referred to as a “life waiver of premium provision” (LWOP) or something similar. Many policies have such provisions but policyholders just aren’t aware of the benefit.

The opioid epidemic has impacted us all in some way. Everyone has a friend or a family member whose lives were affected by this growing crisis. Drug overdoses have contributed to lowering the life expectancy of the average American. Because of the stigma attached to addiction, America has been slow to react to the epidemic and work with those afflicted with addiction to come to a solution to the problem.

Sadly, greed fueled the epidemic when some companies realized they could profit by encouraging doctors to over-prescribe medications and hide information about the addictiveness of opioids. Drug manufacturers have spent millions marketing to doctors and patients, often minimizing information about potential side effects – including the strong addictive nature of opioids. Litigation is plentiful against the companies that produced and marketed opioids to the public.  One example is in Massachusetts, where the attorney general has brought a lawsuit against Purdue Pharma – the company that manufactures Oxycontin – for unfair and deceptive trade practices.

You can read this article to learn more about the unfair deceptive marketing done by Purdue Pharma here.

Bipolar Disorder, a brain based disorder, causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, as well as the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks (National Institute of Mental Health). Bipolar Disorder is a serious mental illness that affects a great many Americans every year. Kantor & Kantor has worked with many clients who suffer with Bipolar Disorder, and such clients are often affected in a way that is life altering and debilitating. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for these clients to face many obstacles and complications when making a claim for long term disability benefits (LTD) for Bipolar Disorder.

Why are these Long Term Disability claims so difficult?

The first issue that can arise is difficulty in proving that you are disabled (under the terms of your long term disability policy’s definition of disabled).  While you and your doctor both know that you are no longer able to work, meeting a policy definition of disability takes more than just that knowledge.  Unlike a back condition or an autoimmune disease, which can be shown through objective measures, objectively establishing that you have disabling Bipolar Disorder can be tricky. Typically, the diagnosis is made by a therapeutic psychologist. The condition is then treated medically by a prescribing psychiatrist, as well as through therapy with a clinical psychologist.  Thus, there really is no lab test or other objective measure to prove you have the condition.  Your treating providers’ diagnosis, based on their examination and treatment of you, is the objective proof – but you must have their help in getting that information to your LTD carrier.

At the time of the denial, it is customary for claim representatives to tell insureds that they will have an opportunity to appeal the denial and that the appeal will be a “fresh look” at the evidence in the file.  Recently, we here at Kantor & Kantor have seen a new trend with some insurance carriers when there has been an initial denial of benefits.  Some carriers are now providing insureds with a one or two page “appeal form” to be completed by the insured for the appeal.  This is misleading and may actually prejudice the insured when completing the appeal.

As discussed in other posts on this website, the appeal to the insurance company is perhaps the most important part of a claim prior filing a lawsuit.  It is the only opportunity for an insured to ensure that all of the evidence supporting his or her claim is in the insurer’s claim file.  As such, an insured needs to include all medical records and testing documenting his or her impairments. If it is not included within the insurer’s claim file at the time of the final denial of the claim, it is very difficult, if not impossible to persuade a trial judge to consider the evidence.   Thus, the mere completion of an appeal form, without the additional documentation, may cause an insured to believe that a few sentences, “explaining” the disability, may cause an insurance company to overturn its decision.  In truth, it will not.   The insurance company will deny the claim on appeal and its claim file will be incomplete, without the evidence that should be included to prove disability.

The insured should not be misled into believing that completion of a simple form will be sufficient to overturn the decision on appeal. The insurer’s claim file should be obtained to review the evidence in support of the denial and the denial letter should be carefully scrutinized. Once this is done, an appeal should be thoroughly prepared to rebut the insurer’s evidence.

Posted by: Beth A. Davis

If you have a long term disability claim through a policy provided by your employer, ERISA most likely governs that claim. As such, if your claim is denied and you have to pursue your benefits, there are very specific rules and regulations about how – and sometimes whether – you will be able to provide evidence of your disability to the insurer.  Also, the quality of the evidence matters very much.  This blog will give you some pointers on what to gather before you hire an ERISA attorney to assist you with your appeal – and you should definitely hire an ERISA attorney to help you because the appeal is your only opportunity to provide the insurer with the necessary evidence to properly support your claim.

  • Request your claim file – if your claim has been denied, you should request a complete copy of your claim file from your insurer. This will help the attorneys to ascertain whether you have a case they can assist you with and what evidence you will need to support your claim;

Posted by: Elizabeth K. Green

When we refer clients to the California Department of Insurance (“DOI”) to report problems with their insurance company’s handling of health claims, it may seem like a wasted effort. After all, the DOI is a large state agency and our clients are just individual patients. A new decision by the California Supreme Court shows that the DOI represents the interests of consumers on a large scale and, even more, the DOI has the power to fine insurance companies that violate insurance regulations.

The California Supreme Court has upheld the DOI’s right to collect $91 million in fines for UHC’s mishandling of health claims. United Healthcare Group now has the ominous reputation of being the largest health insurer in the country, AND the insurer charged with the largest number of insurance regulation violations ever committed in California state history.

Posted by:  Andrew M. Kantor

Happy 2019! In honor of the New Year, I wanted to take some time to discuss some of the newer developments in the world of Disability Insurance.

Advancements in the Fight to Acknowledge ME/CFS

In January of 2018, Judge Lawrence O’Neil issued a scathing ruling against Sun Life Financial, finding that it acted arbitrarily and capriciously when denying Ms. Vicki Young’s claim for ongoing disability benefits, and awarding said benefits to the Plaintiff, Ms.Young.

Ms. Young is a 62-year-old former mortgage broker who suffers from a severe form of fibromyalgia, and several other co-morbid conditions. After paying her LTD benefit for several years, Sun Life decided to terminate her benefit, arguing that the independent physician to whom Sun Life sent Ms. Young concluded that Ms. Young was able to return to a sedentary job, and that Ms. Young’s own physician agreed with that conclusion.

Judge O’Neil agreed with Kantor & Kantor’s argument – on Plaintiff’s Ms. Young’s behalf – that not only did Ms. Young’s treating physician support her disability claim (and was merely confused by an intentionally misleading form), Sun Life’s own independent physician actually gave restrictions and limitations which precluded Ms. Young from returning to applicable work under the terms of the policy.

Today, in our second Mental Health Awareness Month (“MHAM”) blog, we feature a story shown on April 23, 2018, on NBC Nightly News. The story features the Binion family who lost their son Jordan (“Jordy”) to suicide shortly after Jordy declined further treatment for his mental health issues. Unfortunately, even when families desperately want their child to receive treatment, some state’s laws give deference to a minor’s “right to choose.”

Beyond the Binion’s tragic loss, the NBC new piece shared a few very alarming statistics:

  • 40% of states within the U.S. have laws in place that allow minors as young as 12 to affirm or decline consent for mental health treatment;
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