Articles Posted in ERISA

Kantor & Kantor, LLP recently achieved a victory in Olis-v.-Unum-Life-Insurance-Company-of-America No. 8:19-cv-01347-JVS-DFM, __ WL __ (C.D. Cal. July 27, 2020), a lawsuit seeking payment of an ERISA-governed disability claim based on debilitating migraines. Disability cases involving subjective reports of pain may be the most difficult benefit cases courts have to consider. This case provides a good example of what makes for a convincing claim, and what courts are looking for in deciding whether to award benefits. Our client was represented by Kantor & Kantor attorneys, Brent Dorian Brehm, Sarah Demers, and myself, Peter Sessions.

The plaintiff in this case was a 36-year-old woman who was employed by Enterprise, the rental car company, as an account specialist, which involved significant computer use. She had suffered from headaches for much of her life, but in 2016 those headaches intensified into recurrent migraines, which were accompanied by vertigo and visual disturbances. She took a medical leave of absence to address her problems and then tried to return to work, but she only lasted another month before she had to stop working entirely. During this time, Plaintiff visited numerous doctors in a number of specialties, tried several medications, and attended countless physical therapy sessions.

Plaintiff submitted a claim for LTD benefits to Unum Life Insurance Company of America, which Unum denied on the ground that she had not presented sufficient evidence to prove that she could not return to work. Plaintiff unsuccessfully appealed, and then filed suit against Unum under ERISA. The parties filed cross-motions for judgment under Fed.R.Civ.P. 52.

The short answer: Yes, depending on how much time has passed since you first submitted your claim.

Consider the following scenario. You work for a company that has an insured long-term disability (“LTD”) plan that is governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”). Let us say the insurance company is Prudential Insurance Company of America. You go out on disability due to chronic pain and file a claim with Prudential on July 25, 2019. On August 19, 2019, Prudential acknowledges that it received your medical records, activities of daily living questionnaire, and work capacity questionnaire. But inexplicitly, it says it needs more time to decide your claim and takes a 30-day extension. In the meantime, Prudential reaches out to your doctor to request feedback on its medical evaluation conducted by one of its nurse reviewers. Prudential also seeks clarification from you regarding your medical history. On November 13, 2019, Prudential confirms that the file is complete, but it states it needs more time to decide your claim. It does not explain why it needs more time. Finally, on November 27, 2019, Prudential decides against you. Can you file a lawsuit?

According to Judge Jeffrey White in the Northern District of California, the answer is yes. See Hasten v. Prudential Ins. Co. of Am., No. 19-CV-07943-JSW, 2020 WL 3786229 (N.D. Cal. July 6, 2020).

The coronavirus pandemic has altered daily life for everyone across the globe, and caused tens of millions of job losses in the United States. Because losing your job often means losing your health insurance, this can be a double whammy for affected individuals.

Congress recognized this problem in 1985 by passing the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA), a law that protects employees by letting them continue the group health insurance coverage they enjoyed while employed for up to 18 months (and sometimes longer) after their termination. (As with any law, there are exceptions. Not every employer is governed by COBRA’s rules – for example, COBRA only applies to employers who have 20 or more employees.)

However, many people don’t know that they can continue their health insurance coverage, and often employers inadequately inform their employees of their rights under COBRA, or simply don’t inform them at all. This is illegal. COBRA requires employers to provide written notice to terminated employees of their coverage options.

Here at Kantor & Kantor we constantly find ourselves working closely with SSDI attorneys on behalf of our clients. Even more often, the evidence we secure on behalf of our clients during their LTD disputes can be utilized by your clients to support their SSDI claim as well. Here are some thoughts on our clients’ intersection between LTD and SSDI.

If we have a mutual client, use us as a resource to fight the substantive disability claim.

We can promptly provide copies of critical case documents, including testing or expert reports we have acquired in support of our client’s LTD fight. Our evidence saying a claimant is completely unable to work in any occupation on even a part time basis should be similarly useful for your SSDI case.

Kantor & Kantor has established a regular, live, and interactive Zoom conversation to discuss generally and answer questions from the public about long-term disability, health insurance, pensions, life insurance, casualty (homeowners), and more.  BenefitsChat will be live on Wednesday evenings from 5:00 pm – 6:30 pm Pacific Time.

Host Andrew Kantor, his fellow Kantor & Kantor attorneys, and select guests will explain and discuss everything from “big picture” concepts, such as the distinctions between different ways of obtaining insurance, to case-specific concepts designed to help individuals protect their rights.

While there is always a demand for legal information, current events have created an unparalleled need for as many real, live, helping hands as are available to be lent—even if the hand can only be safely lent via webcam. This forum will give people the chance not only to learn from our attorneys and each other; but to do so within the safety and comfort of a like-minded and supportive group of individuals and their families.

Two decisions this week emphasize the importance of submitting treating physician and patient statements in support of an ERISA administrative appeal. For ERISA health cases involving medical necessity denials, an appeal which gets to the heart of why treatment was medically necessary is crucial and can actually determine the course of the lawsuit.

In Katherine P. v. Humana Health Plan, Inc., No. 19-50276, __F.3d__, 2020 WL 2479687 (5th Cir. May 14, 2020), the Fifth Circuit revived life into a claim by a young woman seeking mental health benefits for partial hospitalization treatment. Katherine received partial hospitalization treatment in 2012 for multiple mental health disorders including an eating disorder. Humana paid for the first 12 days of partial hospitalization treatment and then denied benefits, claiming such treatment was no longer medically necessary based on two Mihalik Criteria.

The Fifth Circuit found that judgment for Humana was improper because the administrative record showed a genuine dispute as to whether Katherine satisfied one of the Mihalik Criteria, ED.PM.4.2.

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 general public about how best to diagnose, care for, and live with lupus.

What is Lupus?

Lupus is a chronic (long-term) disease that can cause inflammation and pain in any part of your body. Lupus is a non-contagious autoimmune disease, which means that your immune system — the body system that usually fights infections — attacks healthy tissue instead. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about 9 out of 10 diagnoses of lupus are in women ages 15 to 44 and most people with lupus develop the disease between the ages of 15-44.

On April 28, 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) issued deadline relief and other guidance under Title I of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) to help, among other groups, disability plan participants who are impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, also referred to as the coronavirus outbreak.

The Department of Labor, Department of the Treasury, and the Internal Revenue Service issued a joint notice explaining the extension of time frames for healthcare coverage, portability, and continuation of group health plan coverage under COBRA, and time frames to file a benefit claim or appeal of denied claims.  They also issued COVID-19 FAQs for Participants and Beneficiaries that address a number of common questions concerning health and retirement benefits.

The final rule published by EBSA and submitted to the Office of the Federal Register (OFR) for publication contains information of the extension of certain timeframes under ERISA and the Internal Revenue Code for group health plans, disability and other welfare plans, pension plans, and participants and beneficiaries of these plans during the COVID-19 National Emergency.

The past few months have heralded an unprecedented situation. Millions of Americans are being laid off as COVID-19 shuts down businesses throughout the nation. This is frightening for everyone.  It is doubly difficult for workers who have physical or mental limitations.  For those workers, the specter of finding a new job in this economy, one that can accommodate their often significant limitations, may be overwhelming.

Workers experiencing health issues — including cognitive issues or mental illnesses — who have been having difficulties performing their jobs because of those limitations but have been fighting through them, may well be among the first to be laid off as underperformers. While these workers are in fact impressive in their drive to keep working in the face of daunting health issues, that very refusal to admit defeat may result in unemployment and a lack of income for them.

If you are among these workers, now is the time to evaluate whether a disability claim makes sense for you. While you still have access to your job-related insurance, you can preserve some of your income and access to health insurance.  If you have ongoing medical issues for which you have already been treating that significantly impact your ability to work, be it physical pain, chronic illness, depression, anxiety, or auto-immune issues, talk to your doctor about whether he or she would recommend disability for you.

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