Articles Posted in ERISA

Our firm is involved in litigating a proton beam cancer treatment denial case in Georgia, Ghattas v. Blue Cross Blue Shield Health Care Plan of Georgia, Inc., Case No. 1:20-CV-03157-ELR, 2020 WL 6867155 (N.D. Ga. Nov. 18, 2020). Defendants Blue Cross Blue Shield Health Care Plan of Georgia (BCBSGA) answered Plaintiff Christopher Ghattas’ Complaint alleging the wrongful denial of his life-saving proton beam radiation therapy at Emory University Proton Therapy Center for a diagnosis of brain cancer. Following Defendant’s answering of the Complaint, counsel began preparing to conduct a Rule 26(f) Conference per the Court’s Order. Prior to the setting of this conference call, counsel for BCBSGA articulated to Plaintiff’s counsel two positions: (1) that ERISA matters were exempt from the initial disclosures requirements of FRCP Rule 26 and (2) that Plaintiff—although never having received a page of the administrative record in this case nor counsel ever discussing the standard of review to be applied to this benefits denial—was not entitled to any discovery in an ERISA matter. The Court resolved these two issues as addressed in the parties’ Joint Preliminary Report to the Court.

First, the Court agreed with Plaintiff’s position that Defendant would be required to produce initial disclosures in this matter pursuant to Rule 26. Citing Golden v. Sun Life Fin., Inc., 2:08-CV-070-WKW, 2008 WL 2782736 (M.D. Ala. July 15, 2008), the Court held that “[b]ecause this [ERISA] case involves more than just the administrative  record and because the parties will be engaging in discovery, [defendant is] required to provide initial disclosures in accordance with Rule 26(a).”

Second, Plaintiff had taken the position that he was not foreclosed on any grounds from conducting targeted and limited discovery depending upon the standard of review that would apply to BCBSGA’s benefits denial. Without having produced a single page of the administrative record, BCBSGA took the position that Plaintiff was entitled to no discovery in an ERISA matter. Here, the Court agreed with Plaintiff. Citing Adams v. Hartford Life and Acc. Ins. Co., 589 F. Supp. 2d 1366 (N.D. Ga. 2008), the Court stated that it did “not agree that discovery is inappropriate here.” “In matters such as the one at hand, ‘the body of case law developed under ERISA’ requires ‘the [C]ourt, at the very least, [to] examine the facts as known to the administrator at the time the decision to deny benefits was made to determine whether the administrator’s decision was reasonable.’” Adams, 589 F. Supp. 2d at 1367. The Court held that Plaintiff was entitled to narrowly tailored discovery regarding what evidence the Plan (who claimed it was vested with discretionary authority) was aware of at the time of its decision to deny Plaintiff’s claim for proton therapy.

As many healthcare providers have experienced, anti-assignment provisions in ERISA health plans can be a full-stop to recovering unpaid claims. In good news, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently decided Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital v. Community Insurance Company dba Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, et al., No. 19-55053, __F.App’x__, 2020 WL 5870513 (9th Cir. Oct. 2, 2020), which is a decided win for providers.

In this case, the Ninth Court considered a trial court’s award of damages in favor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital (“MLK”), for services rendered to employees of Budco— the sponsor of the ERISA plan (the “Plan”). Budco’s employees made covered visits to MLK. Although the employees had assigned their benefit payments to MLK, Anthem—the Plan administrator—ignored the assignments, and made payments directly to the employees, who were beneficiaries under the Plan. The employees retained these payments. When MLK sought payment, Anthem ignored the request. Anthem, in refusing to pay MLK, asserted that an “anti-assignment” provision was part of the Plan and justified its payments directly to the employees.

To recover the assigned payments, MLK asserted two grounds in support of its claims. First, MLK asserted that the language of the anti-assignment provision did not prohibit the assignments. The district court did not rule on this contention. Second, MLK asserted that the district court should ignore the anti-assignment provision because it was not part of the Plan.

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.

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