Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a potentially disabling disease of the brain and spinal cord (central nervous system). In MS, the immune system attacks the protective sheath (myelin) that covers nerve fibers and causes communication problems between your brain and the rest of your body. Eventually, the disease can cause permanent damage or deterioration of the nerves.

Signs and symptoms of MS vary widely and depend on the amount of nerve damage and which nerves are affected. Some people with severe MS may lose the ability to walk independently or at all, while others may experience long periods of remission without any new symptoms. While there is no cure for MS, treatments can help speed recovery from attacks, modify the course of the disease, and manage symptoms.

The National MS Society estimates that more than 2.3 million people have a diagnosis of MS worldwide and approximately 1 million people over the age of 18 in the United States have a diagnosis of MS.

The Lupus Foundation of America estimates that 1.5 million Americans, and at least five million people worldwide, have a form of lupus. According to the Lupus Foundation of America most lupus sufferers are misdiagnosed or can go undiagnosed for years. The goal of Lupus Awareness Month is to inform practitioners, patients, care givers, and the public about how best to diagnose, care for, and live with lupus.

What is Lupus?

Lupus is a chronic disease that can cause inflammation and pain in any part of your body. Lupus is a type of autoimmune disease, which means the body’s immune attacks healthy tissue instead.

May 2021: May is Mental Health Awareness Month. In honor of that, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (“AFSP”) is encouraging #MentalHealth4All. The hashtag is behind AFSP’s campaign that seeks to spread this important message:

No One’s Mental Health Is Fully Supported Until

Everyone’s Mental Health Is Fully Supported.

Dealing with insurance companies can often feel complex, challenging, and overwhelming. You are not alone. But it is always best to understand your mental health benefits BEFORE you need to use them. Mental health services may be covered in whole or in part by your health insurance or employee benefit plan. It is important to understand your mental health benefits as you will be responsible for any unpaid claims.

Here are some tips and questions to consider as you try to understand your mental health benefits.

  • Obtain a copy of your health insurance policy or employee benefit plan.

The term “long haulers” has started being used to describe people who have not fully recovered from COVID-19 weeks or even months after first experiencing symptoms. Some long haulers experience continuous symptoms for weeks or months, while others feel better for weeks, then relapse with old or new symptoms. The most common lingering symptoms are fatigue, body aches, shortness of breath, difficulty concentrating, inability to exercise, headache, and difficulty sleeping.

A new Northwestern Medicine study published this week in the Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology analyzed 100 non-hospitalized COVID-19 long haulers and discovered 85% of patients experienced four or more neurologic symptoms which impacted their quality of life, and in some patients, their cognitive abilities. The study included 100 non-hospitalized COVID-19 long haulers from 21 different states who were seen in-person or via telehealth from May to November 2020.

The long haulers suffered persistent neurological issues, including brain fog, headaches, numbness/ tingling, disorders of taste and smell, and various myalgias. Additionally, 85% reported experiencing chronic fatigue. Among the long haulers who were in the study 47% also reported struggling with anxiety, stress, depression, and sadness. As a result, many patients experienced decreased quality of life and about half the patients in the study missed more than 10 days of work.

One of the most crucial pieces of evidence in supporting a long term disability claim is the opinion of the claimant’s treating physician that he or she is disabled.

Many physicians are more than happy to assist their patients with forms required by the LTD provider and in some cases, narrative accounts of their patient’s disabling condition.

Sometimes, though, even with the support of your physician, problems can still arise. Often, this is because of the office visit notes your physician makes with each of your visits. Phrases such as, “doing well,” “symptoms improved,” “responding well to medication,” while meant as shorthand by the doctor that her treatment plan is working, are often used by the insurance company to conclude that you are no longer disabled.

Autoimmune disease is a broad category of related diseases in which a person’s immune system mistakenly attacks the tissues and organs it was designed to protect. Normally, the body’s immune system protects it by responding to invading microorganisms, such as bacteria and viruses. The immune system produces antibodies, which are special proteins that recognize and destroy the invaders. Autoimmune diseases occur when these autoantibodies attack the body’s own cells, tissues, and organs.

Autoimmune Facts:

  • There are more than 100 autoimmune diseases.

Weissman v. United Healthcare Ins. Co., et al., 19-cv-10580, (D. Mass. Mar. 8, 2021) (Judge Allison D. Burroughs). A putative class of former patients, who were denied life-saving, quality-of-life maintaining proton therapy cancer treatment, brought a putative class action alleging that UnitedHealthcare and the lead putative class plaintiffs’ employer-based health plans breached their fiduciary duties by wrongfully denying medically necessary proton therapy cancer treatment. Lead class plaintiff, Kate Weissman, and her family were able to come up with over $125,000 to privately pay for medically necessary proton therapy treatment to treat her cervical cancer diagnosis after UHC denied her treatment in 2016. Kate, along with other proton therapy patients—Zachary Rizzuto and Richard Cole—brought this putative class to vindicate their rights under ERISA and for potentially countless others challenging UnitedHealthcare’s application of narrowly-restrictive, flawed, out-of-date internal coverage guidelines to wrongfully deny claims for proton therapy.

On March 8, 2021, the Court denied in full UnitedHealthcare’s motion to dismiss the putative class’ (1) claims for denial of benefits and (2) claims for breaches of fiduciary duty.  The Court concluded that Plaintiffs had plausibly alleged that Defendants acted arbitrarily and capriciously in denying their claims for proton therapy. Order, p. 17. Above and beyond this determination by the Court, Judge Burroughs also made clear that “[n]otwithstanding Defendants’ arguments to the contrary, Plaintiffs have alleged more than just that their requests for pre-authorization for PBRT were arbitrarily and capriciously denied. Rather, they have alleged that UnitedHealthcare has developed and applied the PBRT Policy [UnitedHealthcare’s separate coverage policy] to broadly deny coverage for PBRT, even though it is safe and effective, because it is more expensive than IMRT. . . If these allegations are borne out, § 1132(a)(1)(B)’s remedy of repayment of benefits may turn out to be inadequate, and it would therefore be premature to foreclose the possibility of equitable relief, including an accounting and disgorgement [of UnitedHealthcare’s profits from wrongfully denying PBRT claims].” Order, p. 19 (citations omitted).

Finally, the Court also concluded that “even if Plaintiffs can ultimately prove only that UnitedHealthcare breached its fiduciary duty by impermissibly denying their benefits, it is possible that relief under § 1132(a)(1)(B) would still be insufficient. In other words, it is conceivable that even past due benefits, prejudgment interest, and attorneys’ fees may not put Plaintiffs in the position they would have been in but for UnitedHealthcare’s alleged misconduct.” Order, p. 20.

When a plan participant is denied a retirement plan benefit, he is required under ERISA to ask the plan, usually through a plan administrator or other fiduciary, to review the denial before he can file a complaint in court. This is referred to as exhausting the plan’s administrative remedies. These administrative remedies and procedures that a plan participant must follow are laid out in the governing plan document and in the summary plan description. This process allows the plan administrator to reconsider its position with perhaps additional information, explanation or evidence. Once the participant gets to a “final” denial, he can then file a complaint in court. Typically, a claim is filed when a participant believes he is entitled to a benefit, or more of a benefit, and the plan tells him he is not. However, when a plan participant believes a fiduciary to the retirement plan has breached a fiduciary duty under ERISA, the question of whether a participant must exhaust the plan’s administrative remedies is unresolved and depends on the jurisdiction where the case is filed.

While the majority of courts of appeals and district courts have found no requirement to exhaust administrative remedies for breaches of fiduciary duty claims, there are two circuits that have ruled the opposite. In a fairly recent case, Fleming v. Rollins, Inc., No. 19-cv-5732 (N.D. Ga. Nov. 23, 2020), the Eleventh Circuit confirmed again its minority stance that exhaustion is required for breach of fiduciary duty claims. Citing Bickley v. Caremark RX, Inc., 461 F.3d 1325, 1328 (11th Cir. 2006). The Second Circuit, on the other hand, has not yet directly addressed the question; however, numerous circuit courts within the Second Circuit have routinely found no exhaustion requirement for breach of fiduciary duty claims.

To be sure, this is not deterring defense attorneys from bringing motions to dismiss on the basis of failure to exhaust. In the decision, Savage v. Sutherland Global Services, Inc., 2021 WL 726788 (W.D.N.Y., 2021) defendants argued exhaustion was required for statutory ERISA claims because the exhaustion requirement is specifically written into the plan document. The court was not impressed with the argument explaining “while plan fiduciaries may have expertise in interpreting the terms of the plan itself, statutory interpretation is the province of the judiciary.” Savage at 4, quoting De Pace v. Matsushita Elec. Corp. of America, 257 F.Supp.2d 543, 557 (E.D.N.Y. 2003).

One of the most crucial pieces of evidence in supporting a long term disability (LTD) claim is the opinion of the claimant’s treating physician that he or she is disabled.

Many physicians are more than happy to assist their patients with forms required by the LTD provider and in some cases, narrative accounts of their patient’s disabling condition. Sometimes, though, the doctor is unable or unwilling to assist. There are a variety of reasons for this: lack of time, lack of compensation, misunderstanding of the level of involvement required by the doctor, employer/hospital rules preventing them, and in some cases, a disbelief that their patient is actually disabled.

If you have a disabling condition and you are making an LTD claim, or you are receiving benefits, your doctor’s participation in the process is essential. Without a doctor’s support, in most cases, your claim is finished. If your doctor has notified you that he or she will not be able to assist you with your claim, it is important to ask him or her to tell you the reason for their decision. If it is anything other than lack of belief that you are disabled, often, further information can change their minds. The offer of additional compensation for their time is a big help. Explaining that they will not have to do anything more than the forms or a letter – that they will not have to testify in court – goes a long way in changing minds.

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